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Urban: Giants' Panda a true sports hero

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Urban: Giants' Panda a true sports hero

Sept. 15, 2011

URBAN ARCHIVE
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Mychael Urban
CSNBayArea.com

There are certain things we want -- check that; things we need -- from our sports heroes.First and foremost, we need them to perform at the highest of levels. They need to be the cream of the crop, and it needs to be obvious. Statistically and aesthetically.We need to know they genuinely appreciate their station in life, too. The slightest trace of entitlement takes them out of the hero realm, no second chances.
Blow off an autograph request? It better be the request from that 46-year-old troll with a color-coded binder of laminated 8-by-10 glossies. That'll play. Disappoint little Kenny or Kendra, though, and you're a straight-up ass.

We also need our true sports heroes to work hard. Granted, the most gifted of athletes often make the sublime look routine; easy, even. Carlos Gonzalez and Ken Griffey Jr. are among the athletes who've been accused of not busting it because they're so fluid and graceful, their movements so seemingly effortless. But watch any athlete more than a couple of times and you can tell if they're giving it their best effort. Eyes don't lie.And, of course, we need to know that our hero is a good teammate. That's fairly easy to discern, too. All you need to do is look for the reactions that follow a hero-candidate's accomplishments.
If he or she is met with the standard fist bump, high five or pat on the posterior, you're safe to assume it's exactly that: standard. If the greeting is an arms-wide hug, an eyes-wide smile or an out-and-out bum rush, rest assured that the recipient is extremely popular.
It's equally instructive to watch the hero-candidate's reaction to the accomplishments of his or her teammates. The more animated it is, the more you get the sense that it's genuine.The biggie, though, is all about joy. We want our sports heroes to exude it. To make us feel it. To share it with anyone who cares to take an interest. And if nobody happens to be watching, hey, the true sports hero couldn't care less. He or she is so enveloped in that joy that it doesn't matter. It's there to share, sure, but the hero's actions seem to suggest that if nobody else cares to partake, no worries. More joy for me.Five requirements. Five reasons to give affix to that label -- HERO -- reserved for a precious few.In other words, five reasons to love Pablo Sandoval.
And yeah, his remarkable night in Colorado on Thursday was the obvious impetus for this assertion, but the case would be made, and won in a landslide, had he gone 0-for-5.That he reached base in all five trips to the plate -- an intentional walk following the cycle he'd put together before the game was a full six innings old -- merely makes it an easier case to make for the night.Performing at the highest level? Sandoval leads Giants regulars in virtually every offensive stat that means a damn, and he's been so good defensively that people are starting to talk about him as a Gold Glove candidate at third base.Appreciative of his station in life? Ever seen the Panda blow anyone off? He doesn't even blow off the eBay trolls. Every day is Christmas for the guy, and under the tree is a bounty of Big Wheels.Hard-working? Hey, this is a different paragraph at this point last year. But when faced with the first dose of adversity of his fairly charmed athletic life, handed an ultimatum from his bosses about losing the many pounds he found on the side of the big-league road over the previous year and a half, Sandoval literally worked his butt off.
Worked his gut off, too. And his thighs, and his second and third and fourth chins. Good teammate? He's got a special handshake for the bullpen catcher, for crying out loud. His successes are unanimously greeted with enthusiasm in the dugout; did you see Andres Torres waving him into third on his triple Thursday? And he reciprocates like a mad man, as if the success of his teammates is his own -- which, if you think about it, is absolutely the case.As for exuding joy, good lord. Is he ever not smiling? Rarely. And when he smiles, how can you not smile with him? You have to smile with him. His joy is so infectious, otherwise sensible human beings pay to put orange faux fur on their heads. Think about that for a second. Folks drop 20 bones to look silly, just to feel a connection, to feel the joy that Pablo feels.If that's not a hero, nothing is. The Giants and their fans are lucky -- blessed, even -- to have such a character.And the best thing about this character? He's 100 percent real.

After Stratton leads way in Giants' shutout, what does his future hold?

After Stratton leads way in Giants' shutout, what does his future hold?

SAN FRANCISCO — After the final out Monday night, a round table was carried into the corner of the home clubhouse at AT&T Park and surrounded by chairs. Eleven players were sitting, eating, drinking and laughing as Chris Stratton prepared to address the media. 

It was a rare sight for the Giants these days, a very rare sight. But then, so was Monday’s result. Stratton led the way in a 2-0 win over the Brewers that was the first home shutout of the season and motivated the joyous post-game scene. 

The shutout was just the second of the season for the staff. Ty Blach went the distance in the other one and Stratton, a fellow rookie, did the heavy lifting Monday, throwing six strong innings before giving way to the bullpen. Matt Cain pitched the seventh, Mark Melancon pitched the eighth while going back-to-back for the first time in three months, and Sam Dyson closed it out quickly. 

There’s a chance that Stratton joins that group in a few days. Johnny Cueto is scheduled to make a rehab start on Tuesday night in Sacramento and that could put him on track to return to the rotation a turn later. That would line up with Stratton’s next start, but Bruce Bochy wasn’t ready to kick the young righty out of the rotation, not after back-to-back scoreless starts against two of the better lineups in the league. A few days after striking out 10 Washington Nationals, Stratton cut through the Brewers. He has 12 2/3 scoreless innings over his past two appearances. 

“For how we’re using him, he’s really handled it well,” Bochy said. “We skipped him, moved him back three or four days, but he doesn’t let it faze him. This is an important time for these young players coming up, whether it’s (Ryder) Jones or (Jarrett) Parker or Stratton. They’re trying to show they belong in the Major Leagues.

“You’re hoping these guys show they’re ready to play here and we don’t have to do something else because we can do it internally.”

Bochy said he could use a six-man rotation when Cueto returns, or a starter could be skipped. That will all sort itself, but the manager made one thing clear. 

“We’d like to pitch him as much as we can,” Bochy said of Stratton.

That’s the same thing Bochy used to say of another right-hander, one he compared Stratton to before Monday’s game. Bochy was asked about Yusmeiro Petit, and he smiled and fondly stated, “He was so good. So good.” The Giants see some Petit in Stratton. He is unaffected by long layoffs and he’s capable of starting, relieving, or even pumping his fastball up a couple ticks for short outings. 

Petit was a mainstay in San Francisco for years, a key cog in a championship team. Bochy has been looking for that piece since Petit departed in free agency, and Stratton seems like he might be suited for the role. He will want more, of course, because all pitchers do. The Giants will give him five more weeks here to try and earn that. 

For the moment, Stratton’s focus is elsewhere. He turns 27 on Monday and the celebration started early. As Stratton answered questions, veterans at the table heckled him about striking out just one Brewer. 

“I left all the strikeouts in Washington, I guess,” Stratton said. 

Nick Hundley walked up with a TV remote and held it up between the cameras. 

“What was your thought on the punchout?” he asked. 

“I’m glad he swung,” Stratton said, smiling. “It was a ball.”

“Did you think about getting any more?” Hundley asked. 

With that, he smiled and ducked back behind the cameras to return to the celebration in the corner. A few minutes later, Stratton joined him.

Instant Analysis: Five takeaways from Giants' first home shutout of 2017

Instant Analysis: Five takeaways from Giants' first home shutout of 2017

BOX SCORE

SAN FRANCISCO — Ty Blach has been a bright spot in this losing season, giving the Giants a young, cost-controlled lefty who can potentially fill a huge role next season. Chris Stratton is trying to do the same thing from the right side. 

The 26-year-old continued his August surge, throwing six dominant innings against the Brewers in a 2-0 win that was the staff's first shutout at AT&T Park this season. 

It was the kind of night that's been so familiar over the years. The Giants had six home shutouts last season. Here are five things to know from this year's first ... 

—- The Brewers are first in the league in homers and the Nationals are third, so Stratton had his work cut out for him the last two times out. His results: 12 2/3 innings, 9 hits, 0 runs, 3 walks, 11 strikeouts. That’s quite the statement. Stratton’s scoreless streak is the longest by a Giants rookie starter since Chris Heston threw 16 1/3 consecutive scoreless innings in July of 2015. 

—- Matt Cain was used as a short reliever to protect a two-run lead in the seventh. He had a 1-2-3 inning that ended with a strikeout. 

—- Mark Melancon pitched back-to-back games for the first time since May 19-20. He struck out Neil Walker and Ryan Braun in a perfect inning. 

—- Jarrett Parker reached base his first three times up. He’s hitting .385 at home this season but he’s just 4-for-35 (.114) on the road. Weird splits for a Giant slugger. 

—- Brandon Crawford is finally finding some traction. His double in the fourth was the big hit in a two-run frame that gave Stratton a lead to work with. Crawford is 7-for-17 on the home stand with three extra-base hits and four RBI.