SAN FRANCISCO - The questions kept coming at Pablo Sandoval. Standing at his locker after Game 4, the Giant known as "Kung Fu Panda" once again was center stage. Two more clutch hits, including the tiebreaking two-out, two-run single that put away the Royals, and Sandoval was trying to sort out all the chatter around him.
The reporters kept talking over each other, forcing Sandoval's head to swivel back and forth as if he were watching a clubhouse ping-pong match.
"Whoa, whoa, whoa!" Sandoval said, holding up his hands.
The noise stopped. Panda smiled. And then the group interview continued in a more sane, orderly fashion.
Sandoval has a knack for taking control of a situation, whether it was the sixth inning of Game 4, when he ripped a game-turning single off Brandon Finnegan -- a lefty reliever who should have been his kryptonite -- or holding court in the clubhouse afterward. Sandoval is the rare athlete who can handle all of this in stride, a proven October performer who is priceless come late autumn.
During the coming weeks, however, we'll find out what that price is for Panda.
If timing is everything with free agency, this is a great time to be Sandoval, who is on the verge of winning a third ring in San Francisco with another productive October. Heading into Sunday night's Game 5, the AT&T Park finale for this season, Sandoval was batting .328 and had reached base in all but one of his 14 postseason games, scoring eight runs and driving in five.
He has yet to have another curtain-closer like the three-homer game that helped earn him MVP honors in the 2012 World Series. But we're talking about a herculean feat accomplished by only three other players. Maybe Saturday's chipping away at two lefty relievers was smaller scale than his '12 Señor Octubre star turn, but those were huge at-bats. And Panda is a big man who enjoys a big moment.
"He's a guy that likes the attention," Gregor Blanco said. "He likes to be the guy always. Sometimes he get a little down, but we know what he's got. What he's capable of. I always tell him, you're the guy here. If you go, we are all going to go."
That's something for the Giants to consider as they look to re-up with Sandoval, who is the classic case of a popular, well-adjusted player worth more to San Francisco than what the numbers suggest.
They signed Hunter Pence, a Phillies import, to a five-year, $90-million extension at the end of the '13 season. Pence was a square peg in Philadelphia, but he's adored in the Bay Area.
Sandoval, an outsized personality himself, is a slimmer peg after dropping 30 pounds before the '14 season, but he could not be a better fit in San Francisco. He has shrugged off conversations about his future in the Bay Area and where else he might end up, saying he wants to focus on winning another ring first.
"I'm just trying now to do the best that I can," he said.
It was enough in Game 4, when Royals manager Ned Yost saved up his lefties to keep throwing at the switch-hitting Sandoval and he kept smacking them.
During the regular season, there was a dramatic drop-off in his splits: .317/.363/.461 vs. righthanders but .199/.244/.319 vs. lefties. But that wasn't the case in Game 4.
But after striking out twice in his first two at-bats against Royals starter Jason Vargas, Sandoval came through twice later against the bullpen. In the fifth inning, his base hit off Danny Duffy set up Hunter Pence to score the tying run on Juan Perez's sacrifice fly. His two-run single off Finnegan broke that 4-4 tie in the sixth.
How does that happen? How could Sandoval look so bad against the lefthanded Vargas and then seemingly recalibrate to conquer that weakness? All the while shaking off the remnants of the flu-like symptoms that dogged him earlier in the day. That part of a player's DNA defies the most advanced analytical breakdowns.
"I think great players have a way of rising to the occasion," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "And he's one of those players. I think one reason is how much he loves being out there. He loves this stage. He's a very loose guy that has a lot of fun playing."
The Giants, as we've seen, have more fun when Sandoval is out there, too.