AT&T PARK — When Pablo Sandoval signed with the San Francisco Giants in July of 2017, it was after a failed two and a half seasons with the Boston Red Sox. He had burned some bridges on his way out of the Bay Area, and wasn’t welcomed back with open arms by a fan base that once adored him.
After becoming an overnight cult hero with a lauded pitching appearance in a blowout loss early in 2018, an improbable start at second base and three weeks of taking over for the injured Evan Longoria, though, Sandoval had finally begun to rehabilitate his image.
On Monday, a day where Brandon Belt’s All-Star candidacy got a boost, when Alen Hanson scored from third on a pickoff throw, and Andrew Suarez got his first big league hit while shutting down a troublesome lineup, it was Sandoval who took center stage with a walk-off single in the 11th inning of a 2-1 win over the Chicago Cubs.
“Having fun was one of the things I was looking for,” Sandoval said. “I had it here … I came here to have fun.”
After Cubs reliever Pedro Strop walked All-Star shortstop Brandon Crawford to load the bases with one out in the 11th, Chicago employed a five-man infield. Strop got ahead 0-2 on Sandoval before the Giants’ third baseman poked an 85-mph slider over third base and down the left field line, bringing home Andrew McCutchen with the winning tally. It was the third big hit in the last two days that Sandoval has had with a two-strike count.
“It’s nice to have a guy up there who’s comfortable with two strikes,” said Bochy. “He’s got the ability to get the bat on the ball, and that’s what you need there … We needed it. We were about out of pitching.”
After going 1-for-11 to start the month, Sandoval, who drove in five runs despite a sprained left thumb on Monday, has gone 6-for-19 over his last four games. That’s quite a bit of fun.
Despite having nowhere near his best stuff, rookie starter Suarez was brilliant for the third start in a row, going six innings and striking out five while walking four and allowing three hits.
“It gives me confidence, for sure,” Suarez said. “I didn’t really have my stuff, as you can see with the four walks, but keeping that lineup to just one run, definitely says a lot.”
Over his last 19 innings, Suarez has gotten a grand total of two runs of support, while allowing just three. Monday was his sixth straight start with fewer than two runs allowed.
“He threw a beauty,” Bochy said, “especially towards the end there, when he was at the end of his rope … There’s a savvy about the kid. He’s got good poise, keeps his composure. He’s got a good focus on him right now.”
Chicago (51-37) took an early lead in the third after a leadoff double by Ian Happ, a single by Albert Almora, Jr., and a would-be double play grounder by Addison Russell, which forced a high turn throw to first from Hanson.
In the fifth, Hanson reached on a fielder’s choice, before a wild pickoff throw by Kyle Hendricks sailed wide left of Anthony Rizzo at first. As second baseman Javier Baez headed into the Cubs bullpen to pick the ball up, Hanson hesitated as he rounded third, and Baez looped the ball back to the infield. As soon as Hanson saw the throw, he turned on the jets and scored, tying the game.
“I think that he thought that I wasn’t going to try to score from third,” Hanson said through an interpreter. “I saw that he was just taking his time, and when I saw that he lowered his guard, that’s when I took advantage of that fact and scored from third.”
While Hendricks — who came in with a 4.27 ERA — held San Francisco down over 8 1/3 innings, striking out eight, Suarez got backup thanks to some All-Star-caliber work from Final Vote candidate Belt.
Belt, San Francisco’s cleanup hitter, bunted against the shift for a single in the second inning and made three stellar plays with the glove. He snared a liner from Rizzo in the fourth, dug out a pick on a low throw by Sandoval for the second out in the fourth and in the seventh, ranged back up the line and at a full gallop, fielded an Ian Happ grounder and fired back to reliever Tony Watson for the second out of that inning.
The Giants (48-45) got a pair of 1-2-3 innings from Watson and Mark Melancon, who looked as good as he has since returning from the disabled list, getting three ground-ball outs. Will Smith struck out two in the ninth, and worked around a two-out double down the left field line by Ben Zobrist, shutting up a sizable and vocal chanting Cubs contingent in the lower bowl by getting David Bote to ground out to short.
“[Watson and Melancon] are outstanding, aren’t they? I thought Mark’s outing tonight was his best, talking about stuff, velocity, everything,” Bochy said. “Smitty, he gave up the double, but he found a way to get that last out. That’s how you win games like this.”
After Cubs reliever Steve Cishek allowed a one-out triple to Hunter Pence in the 10th, he fanned both Chase d’Arnaud and Steven Duggar to strand the winning run 90 feet away.
“That’s a tough match-up for our hitters, but that next inning, Pablo came back and came through for us,” Bochy said.
… Ty Blach was the Giants’ long man, had the need arisen, during Monday’s game. After him, Bochy was going to use rookie Ray Black for an inning, and then Sam Dyson, before perhaps dipping into the starting rotation to throw Jeff Samardzija for an inning.
“Once it gets close, you start checking on guys who can [throw],” Bochy said.
… While going through his options, Bochy let slip that the Giants will soon start Derek Holland — who cut a pro-wrestling-style promo with Pence before the game, in support of Belt’s All-Star candidacy. It’s possible that he throws on Tuesday to push Johnny Cueto back a day.
… Suarez got the first hit of his major league career in the third, a 1-0 single back up the middle. He was presented with the ball after the game, and said he was more proud of his hitting than he was his pitching on the evening.