SAN FRANCISCO –- Pablo Sandoval bounded out of his roadster in the players’ parking lot, skipped to the clubhouse and bobbed his head to music on oversized, gilded headphones.
He wasn’t shy about sharing his falsetto with the stadium workers as they clocked in.
He arrived at his locker to find a box full of performance undershirts with various superhero logos, and distributed them to teammates. Hector Sanchez took Captain America, even though it made him look like he wore a giant target on his chest. (Not the best choice for a guy who takes so many foul tips his nickname is the Spanish word for "magnet.")
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Then Sandoval dug into the batter’s box, got a first-pitch fastball and sent it soaring into the right field arcade. His three-run home run in the first inning allowed Tim Lincecum some margin for error, which came in handy on a day the right-hander threw two more strikes than balls. It turned into a happy-go-lucky night for everyone on the home side as the Giants opened their interleague series with a 6-2 victory over the Minnesota Twins Friday night.
Sandoval has three home runs in his last five games. He didn’t hit a single homer in 29 games prior to that. He was hitting .171 through May 9. Since then, he’s hitting .360 in 12 games with three homers and four doubles among his 18 hits. He hasn’t drawn a single walk over that span.
In other words, he’s the hyper-aggressive, hyper-talented Panda again.
I asked left-hander Jeremy Affeldt: Is it any coincidence that Sandoval is heating up at the plate at the same time he’s appearing to have fun again?
“What do you mean by again?” Affeldt said. “Because I think all year, really, he’s had fun. He might have been frustrated on the field but in here, I really don’t think he changed. He’s always upbeat. He’s always consistent that way, and that’s obviously hard to do when things aren’t going your way.
“To me, it shows that if you stay positive, good things can happen.”
Sandoval has said this: When the team is in first place, it’s easier to stay positive through personal struggles. Now Sandoval is heating up, the Giants remain in first place and they joined the A’s by becoming the second major league team to reach 30 victories.
Yes, it is a VERY good time to be a baseball fan in the Bay Area.
Lincecum felt fortunate to take two runs allowed in six innings on a night when No. 55 looked up at the scoreboard and saw he had thrown 55 strikes and 55 balls.
“I can’t remember the last start I had more balls than strikes going into the sixth inning and had a win going,” said Lincecum, who was effectively wild -- and then some -- while issuing six walks. “No, I can’t recall that.”
He found a way to scramble while holding the Twins hitless in seven at-bats with runners in scoring position. He helped himself by varying his time to the plate, which led to Brian Dozier getting picked off after a leadoff double in the first inning. Lincecum had external help as well. The Twins ran into one other out at the plate, and shortstop Brandon Crawford made a diving catch of a line drive in the fifth.
It was mentioned to Lincecum that he won in April of last season the last time he issued as many as six walks in a start. (He actually walked seven against the Dodgers in that game.) And Nolan Ryan won 58 games when he walked six or more.
“I’m in good company?” Lincecum said. “I’ll take it. I’ll take two runs in six innings.”
Lincecum offered a reminder that it’s a “night and day” difference between his stuff now and his stuff as a two-time Cy Young Award winner. He was “more content to throw the ball in the middle of the plate,” confident his fastball would scream past their bats.
“Now I’m picking spots and going to secondary stuff,” he said.
And, maybe, relying on the power of positive thinking. It’s working for Sandoval, after all.
There was just one more question. Which superhero logo did the Panda wear under his jersey?
“Batman,” he said.