Pablo Sandoval was about to play an exhibition game against the Chinese Taipei National Team in Taiwan last November, but he wasn’t comfortable. Sandoval needed to get some swings. He needed to find a batting cage. So, as his teammates relaxed in the dugout, Sandoval bolted past them to find a place to hit.
Sandoval’s determination to get his pre-game hacks was surprisingly intense. As important as it was for Major League Baseball to send a team to play in Taiwan, Sandoval’s at-bats weren’t going to be scrutinized. No one was going to criticize or praise Sandoval for what he did against a bunch of 20-year olds. But Sandoval, the San Francisco Giants’ third baseman, treated those at-bats seriously.
As I watched Sandoval’s magical three-homer performance against the Detroit Tigers in Game 1 of the World Series, I recalled what I had witnessed in Taiwan. If Sandoval treated some meaningless at-bats in Taiwan that intensely, how seriously would he treat his chances on Wednesday night? Sandoval answered that simple question with two homers off Justin Verlander and another off Al Albuquerque to power the Giants to an 8-3 victory.
“Man,” Sandoval said, “I still can’t believe it.”
Detroit’s starters allowed only two earned runs in sweeping four games from the Yankees in the American League Championship Series. That stretch of dominance didn’t last against the Giants. It didn’t last because of Sandoval. He hammered an 0-2 fastball for a homer in the first and then hit Verlander’s 2-0 fastball for another homer in the third. Both pitches hummed in at 95 miles per hour. He also belted Albuquerque’s slider for a homer in the fifth and singled in his fourth at-bat, completing a hitting clinic of a game.
In Taiwan, I watched Sandoval and Robinson Cano have animated hitting discussions. They would show each other their swings and then mimic each other’s swings. If there was a point that needed to be emphasized, they would stop each other in mid-swing and make it. This happened on planes, on buses and at the ballpark.
If you had told me back then that one of them would hit three homers in the first game of the next World Series, I would have guessed that it would have been Cano. If you asked for a percentage, I would have said 75-25 for Cano. Remember, at that juncture, Cano had hit six homers in his last 45 postseason at-bats. But I would have been wrong, way wrong, with that guess.
Sandoval is the fourth player to hit three homers in a World Series game, joining the legendary names of Babe Ruth, Reggie Jackson and Albert Pujols. By having such a memorable game, Sandoval changed the enduring image I had of him. That image was linked to music and bleary eyes, not hitting.
When we left Los Angeles for Taipei on the MLB tour, the media members sat in the back of the plane. It was extremely comfortable since about 10 reporters were scattered in 50 seats for the 14-hour flight. Eventually, word of our spacious digs trickled forward. Sandoval and a few others joined our neighborhood.
Several hours later, the lights were dimmed. It was time for everyone to sleep for a few hours, but not Sandoval. He busted out his music docking station and pumped up the volume. The back of the plane turned into a house party. There was singing and dancing and little sleep. When you lose sleep, it’s hard to forget how you lost it.
Now that Sandoval had his magical game, I’ll naturally think about those three homers more than I’ll think about how he turned into Skrillex on the flight. I’d rather watch his swing than listen to him sing. So would the Giants.
Follow Jack Curry on Twitter: @JackCurryYES