Sandoval: 'I feel great at home plate'
PHOENIX – Pablo Sandoval deserves 99 percent of the credit, of course, for the ninth-inning, two-run home run into the upper troposphere that sent the Giants to a 2-1 victory at Chase Field Tuesday night.
OK, so Arizona’s J.J. Putz gets a little bit, too, for hanging that 0-1 splitter.
But toss a little something in the direction of the Giants’ most celebrated orator in recent franchise history. Hunter Pence was at it again, whispering words of wisdom to Sandoval just before he went to the plate in the ninth. And whether he knew it or not at the time, he spoke the words.
“I said, `Pablo, just feel that good click’ and he started singing this song, `click click click,’” Pence said. “He started nodding his head like he was going to do it. Then he went out and did it.
“I think it’s some rap song. I don’t know.”
After a little crack investigative reporting, yes, it’s a Kanye West song. So what if he’s rapping about cliques instead of clicks. It worked.
“I just tried to plant the seed of a good connection,” said Pence, “and he got in the zone and made it happen.”
It’s been happening all through a rambunctious April, which the Giants finished with eight comeback victories on their way to a 15-12 record. Most of those comebacks didn’t happen in the fourth or fifth innings, either. Pence owned a two-out, two-strike homer at Wrigley Field that saved the Giants. Brandon Belt has done his best work in the eighth inning or later.
It’s not the way the Giants planned to begin the season. But with their rotation still looking for consistency beyond the brilliant Madison Bumgarner, they’ve had to win with a different blueprint.
“It shows you about the mettle of this club, to be where we’re at,” said Giants manager Bruce Bochy, prior to the game. “We haven’t pitched as well as we have the last three years. Our defense hasn’t been as solid as it needs to be this month. But they’ve fought to have a winning record despite not playing our best ball.”
Bochy said last year’s six playoff elimination victories “have a lot to do with what’s happened in April,” in terms of the team’s ability to show resolve for nine innings -- and beyond, when necessary.
They’ve needed it against the Diamondbacks while winning three of five games thus far heading into Wednesday’s series finale. The margin of victory in runs: One, two, one, two and one.
“Unbelievably close,” Pence said, smiling. “The smallest things go the longest way.”
Putz’s 85 mph splitter included. Even for Sandoval, who loves hitting in this ballpark, it was a prodigious shot that did a flyby over the pool in right field and almost hit the base of the scoreboard.
“That was a good one,” said Bumgarner, who threw seven shutout innings. “I knew it when he stood there and admired it.”
“It just came out,” a grinning Sandoval said of his rather showy bat flip.
It came after Angel Pagan hit a leadoff single in the ninth to end Trevor Cahill’s bid for a complete game, then stole second base. Putz managed a rare swinging strikeout from Marco Scutaro.
Was Sandoval looking for a splitter after fouling off a first-pitch slider?
“Nope,” he said. “Just swing.”
Who can argue with that philosophy? Sandoval has 11 hits in his last 17 at-bats and his 22 RBI trail only the Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera among major league third basemen.
His 35 hits are tied with Pittsburgh’s Starling Marte for the most in the National League, too.
“I just tried to calm myself,” Sandoval said. “It felt pretty good when it came off my bat. I’m happy. We need it. We came out of tough times in San Diego and we came here to fight and win.”
What about all the click-click-click stuff?
"I said, `Watch, I'm going to click one."
So the Panda called his shot?
"Pretty much!" he said, smiling.
It was Sandoval’s biggest home run since Game 1, when the eventual World Series MVP went all Reggie Jackson with three homers, including two off the Tigers’ Justin Verlander. The Panda bears the residue of that experience, too.
“You know what, he’s calmed down, especially in these situations,” Bochy said. “Experience has helped him. He could get a little anxious. Now he’s staying a lot more composed up there and staying in the zone better.”
Eleven for 17 is a zone, all right.
“You get a good hitter like that in the zone, they’re fun to watch,” Bochy said. “Especially after last night. I mean, we weren’t even sure he could play.”
Sandoval came in for early treatment on his right elbow, which forced him into a sixth-inning TKO Monday night. He showed the elbow didn’t bother him throwing when he zipped a couple of fastballs across the diamond in the earlier innings. He said he can still feel it when he swings left-handed, though.
“Better to lose two at-bats than three weeks,” is what Giants head athletic trainer Dave Groeschner told him Monday night.
But no sermon was going to keep him out of Tuesday’s lineup – especially in a ballpark where he’s a .357 hitter with six homers, nine doubles and 28 RBI in 37 games.
“I don’t want to sit down,” he said. “I just want to keep playing.”
And click, click, click away.