Nickname or not, Pablo Sandoval is a star now
When the Bay Area's tech-savvy populace enabled Pablo Sandoval to start the Midsummer Classic over the more deserving David Wright, the infamous East Coast bias kicked into overdrive, with the former A's bandleader, Sandy Alderson, revving it up on Twitter.
"ASG election of Kung Fu Panda shows the value of a cute nickname," Alderson tweeted at the time. "Surprised Giants fans didn't elect a 'ball dude' to start at 3B."
Alderson was merely defending his own player. But in a season of miscalculations for the Mets, this turned out to be another by the team's GM. Four months later, Sandoval is the World Series MVP, thanks solely to his historic performance in the Fall Classic and not an army of cuddly Panda bear knit hats.
Sandoval batted .500 (8-for-16) in the Giants' sweep of the Tigers, and three of those hits accounted for his shocking trio of home runs -- including two off Justin Verlander -- in Game 1. Coming in to this World Series, all eyes were on Miguel Cabrera, but the Triple Crown winner spent the disappointing week in Sandoval's supersized shadow. "I was ready for the moment," Sandoval said.
It was Cabrera who stood there, bat on his shoulder, watching the third strike that ended the clinching Game 4. Afterward, Verlander still had Sandoval on his mind, saying how he badly wanted one more crack at the pudgy third baseman. But did he really?
Sandoval went 3-for-3 against Verlander this season, with the two World Series homers and his All-Star Game triple. Judging by Sandoval's jolly mojo this October, which helped fuel the Giants' magical romp, Verlander was better off postponing the rematch for another time. Maybe next July at Citi Field, for instance.
Some things can't be explained. How a team like the Giants can win six straight elimination games, then sweep the Tigers, who had swept the Yankees. Or how a 240-pound third baseman can nimbly avoid his own pitcher while successfully fielding a speedster's bunt, as Sandoval did in the third inning Sunday night. "It's one of the reasons we call him Kung Fu Panda," said that pitcher, Matt Cain.
The Giants relied on a number of unlikely heroes to secure their second World Series crown in three years. Sandoval saw limited playing time during the Giants' title run in 2010 and subsequently had to overcome getting more attention for his weight than on-field performance.
Sergio Romo was thrust into the closer's role when Brian Wilson was lost for the season. Marco Scutaro was acquired from the Rockies in a deadline deal and sparked a comeback from a 3-1 deficit against the Cardinals to earn the NLCS MVP. Angel Pagan, picked up in a December trade with the Mets, rejuvenated his stalled career. All of this happened against the backdrop of losing Melky Cabrera to a 50-game PED suspension -- and then choosing not to reinstate him for the playoffs.
"You know, it's a team," Sandoval said. "I say thank you to my team to give me the opportunity to be here."
Before Game 1, a sleepy-looking Sandoval sat at an interview table and answered question after question about playing against fellow Venezuelan Cabrera. Sandoval was asked if he was exhausted by everything it took for the Giants to get to the World Series.
"In this moment, you never feel tired," Sandoval said, before adding, "I sleep well. I don't mess with my sleep."
Now, with what is sure to be a surge in popularity, Sandoval has to be the early favorite to start at third base for the National League in next July's Midsummer Classic in Flushing.
To the Wright fans out there -- Alderson included -- remember what the San Franciscans taught us this year. Vote early, vote often. Sandoval is more than a cute nickname now.