Giants’ Sandoval overcomes bug, delivers healthy Game 4 outing
SAN FRANCISCO — After Saturday night, do you really think free-agent-to-be Pablo Sandoval will be wearing, say, a Boston Red Sox uniform next Opening Day?
Of course, the usual caveats apply: It makes little sense to base long-term player evaluations on a one-month postseason. We’ve seen championship teams ruin their futures with emotional decisions on player contracts (e.g., the Philadelphia Phillies, 2008 to present). Sandoval is 28, and his conditioning has been a concern in the past.
But then there is this: After Sandoval supplied the decisive single in the Giants’ 11-4 victory in Game 4 of the World Series — despite running a fever and vomiting earlier in the day — his team is two wins away from its third title in five years. In contemporary pro sports, that constitutes a dynasty. And dynasties — like the New York Yankees of the late 1990s and early 2000s — rarely allow popular, recognizable stars to leave during their prime years.
As unpredictable as the free-agent market has been in recent years, the Giants repeatedly have shown a willingness to pay big dollars in order to keep their most identifiable players. They did it last autumn with Hunter Pence (five years, $90 million) and Tim Lincecum (two years, $35 million, despite a diminished repertoire and role).
Without an obvious internal replacement at third base, it’s hard to imagine they’ll let Sandoval leave — even if he asks for a deal similar to the one Pence received. Sandoval is coming off a regular season during which he played a career-high 157 games but posted the second-lowest OPS of his career (.739).
If anything, the past month has underscored Sandoval’s importance to a good-but-not-great Giants offense. His OPS in this postseason is .805. His career postseason OPS is .902, with six home runs in 36 games. He was named MVP of the 2012 World Series, after becoming one of only four men in baseball history to hit three homers in a single Fall Classic game.
Saturday’s Game 4 was the latest chapter in the Kung Fu Panda’s October legend. A switch hitter, Sandoval began the night with a pair of strikeouts from the right side against Royals starter Jason Vargas. Sandoval traditionally struggles against left-handed pitching, and Kansas City manager Ned Yost (correctly) continued calling on southpaws to face him. But Sandoval delivered, anyway, with a key single against Danny Duffy in the fifth and game-breaking hit off rookie Brandon Finnegan in the sixth.
And he did it all while he was sick.
Sandoval said after the game that he threw up after batting practice before Game 4; he had to take medication and a power nap for about 30 minutes shortly before the game.
“You have to forget about the sickness and play,” said Sandoval, who felt queasy during the game — but refused to tell manager Bruce Bochy or the team’s athletic training staff because he didn’t want to be removed from the game. “Not even think about it, especially in this situation. I just wanted to go out there and deal with that. I don’t want to let my team down.”
If Sandoval signs elsewhere after the season, Sunday’s Game 5 could be his final home game at AT&T Park. When I asked Sandoval if the future is in the back of his mind, he replied, “I love my team, and I love the fans. I don’t want to comment about it. I’m still playing.”
As long as there is another game in front of him, Sandoval has the chance to burnish his legacy as one of the premier postseason performers of his time. And another World Series ring would make it even harder to end a relationship that’s been integral to the greatest era of baseball in San Francisco history.