SAN FRANCISCO -- By the time Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval hit a two-run homer in the top of the ninth inning at Busch Stadium last Thursday, it was too late. Game 4 of the National League Championship Series was already a blowout. The blast only cut the Cardinals final margin of victory to 8-3.
As it turned out, though, it wasn't too late for Sandoval to get hot, even though that win gave St. Louis a lead of three games to one in the best-of-seven series.
Before that, he was 3-for-16 (.188) for the series, without a run scored or an extra-base hit, and had just one RBI. Since then he's 5-for-9 with a double, two homers and four runs driven in. His production is a big reason the Giants have come back to even the NLCS, forcing a decisive Game 7, with Sunday night's 6-1 win at AT&T Park.
MVP candidate Buster Posey is hitting .136. Right-fielder Hunter Pence is batting .130. It was important for the Giants to get at least one of their middle-of-the-order guys going and, in the last couple games, that player has been the Kung Fu Panda.
"It's great to have Pablo swing the bat well," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "We count on him being in that three-hole to help drive in runs, and he's doing a great job of it. We're facing good pitchers. They're shutting down some of our hitters. But you hope that somebody picks it up. And that's what Pablo has done for us. He's a good hitter. When he's swinging well, he's fun to watch."
|NLCS 6||10/21||Stl.||6-1 W||2||4||0||1|
|NLCS 5||10/19||@ Stl.||5-0 W||2||4||2||1|
|NLCS 4||10/18||@ Stl.||8-3 L||1||4||1||2|
|NLCS 3||10/17||@ Stl.||3-1 L||2||5||0||1|
|NLCS 2||10/15||Stl.||7-1 W||1||5||0||0|
|NLCS 1||10/14||Stl.||6-4 L||0||3||0||0|
|NLDS 5||10/11||@ Cin.||6-4 W||2||4||1||0|
|NLDS 4||10/10||@ Cin.||8-3 W||3||4||1||3|
As it turns out, swinging well can mean swinging more selectively. Sandoval conceded that one of the reasons he struggled early was that he wasn't being patient enough at the plate. "That's the key. When you have patience at home plate you get pitches you can drive," he said.
His first-inning double in Game 6 against Cardinals starter Chris Carpenter helped San Francisco grab an early lead. Marco Scutaro, who had walked, went to third, and then was able to score on the contact play when St. Louis third baseman David Freese briefly had trouble getting the ball out of his glove.
It was his single in the second that capped a four-run inning that really illustrated the point, though. He saw 10 pitches during the at-bat. After the count reached 3-2, he fouled off four Carpenter offerings before singling up the middle. "He battled quite a few pitches and finally got a base hit to add onto the score. I thought that was a great at-bat," Bochy said.
Said Pence: "He's got some of the most ridiculous hands I've ever seen. It looks like he's not trying to do too much. He's just letting it go and letting his talent take over."
Sandoval is naturally happy to have been able to contribute to big wins in the last two games, but insisted he doesn't read too much into it. "It's exciting. You're going to have ups and down during the season. So if you can contribute in the postseason, you're happy. I'm just going to keep fighting, go in there and play my game," he said.
"That's one of those things. When you're having fun, things go your way. Every guy wants to be in this situation now, to be in the postseason. You don't get too many chances to get here. So why are you going to put pressure on yourself? Every guy here wants to be in the World Series. So we just need to go out there and have fun.
"I don't try to do more because somebody else happens to be slumping at the moment. They give you support no matter if they're hitting the ball or not. Hunter's a great guy and a great teammate. He always keeps his head up. Buster calls the games and plays great defense. That's part of the game. You're going to have ups and downs. You have to keep your head up, and those guys have done that real well," he said.
Center fielder Angel Pagan pointed out that the end result is what matters. "As long we win, it doesn't matter who gets it done. When you're in the playoffs, it doesn't matter. It's like two cowboys shooting at each other. There aren't a lot of opportunities for hitters. Their bullpen has been lights-out. But it's whatever it takes. That [last] game in Cincinnati, we won it on an error. And we'll take that win," he said.
At the same time, both he and first Brandon Belt recognize that it's easier to win when at least one of the 3-4-5 hitters is producing. And, for the last two games, that's been Sandoval.
"That [home run in Game 4] gve you a sense he's still locked in," Belt said. "He's going to stay focused no matter what the score is. And I think that gives people confidence behind him. It means a lot. He's a power guy who can get up there and get us some extra base hits, score guys from first base, hit a home run when we need it. So it's been huge for us."
Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.