If this is it for Panda, then thanks are due for so many Giants memories

By | March 26, 2024

If this is it for Panda, thanks are due to the many Giants memories that originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area

Programming Note: Giants fans can watch Pablo Sandoval’s potential last game in the orange and black Tuesday at 5 PM PT on NBC Sports Bay Area and stream it on the NBC Sports app.

SAN FRANCISCO – The email from the Giants arrived in the inbox Saturday morning and contained a pretty clear message. The title was “Celebrate Pablo Sandoval this Tuesday,” and the email listed some of the third baseman’s accomplishments before saying he was returning to Oracle Park “for what could be his last game in a Giants uniform.”

Although Sandoval said he hoped to compete for a job when he surprisingly arrived at Scottsdale Stadium last month, that has always been by far the most likely outcome. A year after Sergio Romo’s emotional final performance during the Bay Bridge series, Sandoval is ready for his own special night.

The Giants plan to celebrate the Panda with an appearance that will likely be his final appearance after 21 years in professional baseball. It’s also one that seemed highly unlikely a decade ago.

After a third title in orange and black, Sandoval fled to Boston for a five-year contract worth $95 million. The Giants had offered him about $85 million that spring, and after Sandoval agreed to a deal with the Red Sox, they went out of their way to let local reporters know that they might have exceeded the deal he got in Boston if he had wanted to stay. It was clear then that both sides needed a break.

“It took me a long time to be sure I was making the right decision,” Sandoval said when he left in 2014. “I know I had a great career in San Francisco, but I’m going to have a new one here with new challenges.”

Those challenges ended up being much greater than Sandoval anticipated. He played just 161 games for the Red Sox during a three-year stretch that couldn’t have gone much worse and ended with him being DFA midseason in 2017.

A few weeks later, Sandoval found himself back in San Francisco, and while his first stint as a Giant was far more successful than the second, it’s those four extra years that made tonight’s ceremony possible. Sandoval has always been loved by most Giants fans, but there were hurt feelings on both sides when he left in 2014. Nowadays, none of that exists anymore.

It was no surprise that Bruce Bochy, a man he considers a father figure, welcomed him with open arms in 2017. But Sandoval proved so effective as a part-time bat and spark of energy for the clubhouse that Farhan Zaidi and Gabe Kapler brought him back in 2020 even as he was rehabbing from Tommy John surgery.

Kapler is now gone, and Zaidi has completely overhauled virtually every part of the organization and has been ruthless at times with his roster decisions, but he was happy to invite Sandoval back for another run after a period of offseason lobbying.

“We had to sign Pablo because the training videos he sent me took up all the space on my phone,” he joked after the deal was made.

True to form, Sandoval, now 37, was perhaps the most energetic player in the clubhouse last month. But he got just 25 at-bats in Cactus League games, picking up five hits and striking out thirteen.

The Giants never intended to have him on their Opening Day roster, and if there was even a small crack in the door, it slammed shut when Matt Chapman was signed as the everyday third baseman. Sandoval’s quiet spring isn’t likely to lead to any of the 29 other organizations coming calling, and he has been coy about whether he would accept an assignment in the minor leagues.

When the time comes Tuesday night, the exhibition game will cap a long career that was ultimately productive, but often left the Giants wanting more.

Sandoval has played 1,380 games in the major leagues, including 1,149 with the Giants. A switch-hitter with a preternatural ability to run the baseball no matter where it is thrown, he has a career batting average of .278 and is hitting .285 with the Giants, with an OPS approaching .800.

Since the Giants moved west, 21 position players have appeared in at least 1,000 games for the franchise, and only five have a higher average than Sandoval. If you’re only behind Barry Bonds, Orlando Cepeda, Willie Mays, Buster Posey and Will Clark on a list, you’re in some pretty strong company.

Sandoval was infamously benched during San Francisco’s 2010 World Series run, and there were other moments when Bochy had to send a message, but he has plenty of highlights on his resume. He is a two-time All-Star who set a franchise record with 24 hits in the 2012 postseason. He holds the Giants record for hits in a season by a switch-hitter.

And of course, he provided three images that this fanbase may never forget.

Sandoval became just the fourth player to hit three home runs in a World Series game, turning Justin Verlander into a GIF and giving the Giants such a rough start in the 2012 World Series that they ultimately defeated the heavily favored Detroit Tigers. Two years later, it was Sandoval who caught and squeezed a pop-up from fellow countryman Salvador Perez to capture a third title in San Francisco’s unforgettable Game 7 win over the Kansas City Royals.

With his ability to expand the zone and connect on elite courts, Sandoval was made for the bright lights of the postseason, but he did not appear in another October game for the Giants after settling for that last zero. of his second and third stints with the Giants came on the mound.

Despite numerous pleas from [Brandon Craford and Brandon Belt], Bochy had never put a Giants position player on the mound — until he found himself on the wrong end of a blowout in the first game of a 2018 doubleheader against the Dodgers. To wipe away the sour taste before game two — and save an overworked bullpen — he turned to Sandoval, who responded with an entertaining and efficient 1-2-3 inning.

Sandoval returned to the mound the following season and had another scoreless frame. Assuming this is it for him, he’ll retire with that .278 batting average, three rings… and a 0.00 ERA. It’s the perfect statistic for a man who loves the game so much that he returned for another jump shot at age 37. That attitude was summed up after Sandoval first walked off the mound six years ago.

“Just have fun,” he said that day. “I’m letting the guys know that no matter the situation, have fun.”

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