By Doug Bruzzone
Special to S.F. Examiner
ORACLE PARK — With raucous applause echoing through Oracle Park, Pablo Sandoval was announced as a pinch hitter in the bottom of the seventh inning of Sunday’s 8-4 loss to the San Diego Padres.
The Giants were already down 7-4 after Jeff Samardzija, so strong throughout August, was unable to get on track, giving up six runs in 5 1/3 innings with only two strikeouts. The offense, playing from behind all day, just didn’t have the firepower to keep up with San Diego as the team finished a 1-5 homestand, but for that one moment, the crowd cheered like they were about to see a fourth World Series title.
“I want to cry in that moment, but I hold onto it,” said Sandoval, who will have season-ending Tommy John surgery on Wednesday. “It’s great. It’s great when you feel the love from the fans.”
Sandoval took a moment, then stepped into the batter’s box, the crowd still going wild. He took one 94 MPH fastball, then got another, hitting it softly up the middle, where third baseman Manny Machado fielded it and threw to first for the out.
“It was great to see the adoration from the fans and the love,” Sandoval said. “It’s one of those moments you don’t want to forget. I didn’t get the result I want, but I got the best result: the love from the fans.”
The crowd gave Sandoval another standing ovation on his way back to the dugout, almost certainly his last at-bat as a Giant this season, and possibly his last at-bat as a Giant at all. Before he left, though, he gave the crowd at least another moment of significance in a season without many left.
The Padres got to Samardzija early and often, with a first inning leadoff homer from Greg Garcia and two homers from Ty France the big blows. In all, Samardzija gave up six extra-base hits.
“I was fighting myself out there for most of the day,” Samardzija said. “Just didn’t find myself in very good counts. Tip your hat to them. They came out and made adjustments from the last time I faced them and put the barrel on the ball. Put a few more lefties in there today and put some good swings on it. We just weren’t locating very well all day. It was just a grind.”
The last double he gave up, at least, was not really Samardzija’s fault. The Padres were up one run in the top of the 6th with one out and Eric Hosmer on third when Wil Myers hit a weak grounder down the third base line. Evan Longoria, seeing that he had no chance to throw Hosmer out at home, jumped over the ball, hoping it would go foul. It did not. Hosmer scored, Myers ended up at second base and Samardzija walked the next batter before being removed for Fernando Abad, who gave up a three-run homer to Ty France on the first pitch he threw, making it a 7-2 game, and putting it permanently out of reach.
The big story, though, was Sandoval.
After the Giants won the 2014 World Series, Sandoval signed with the Boston Red Sox, and on his way out of town, made several unflattering comments about the Giants organization. After two and a half unproductive years in New England, where he performed poorly on the field and was unpopular in the clubhouse, the Red Sox cut bait with Sandoval.
The Giants, so well known for giving second chances to former members of the organization, did the same with Sandoval in mid-2017, and he’s been a model citizen ever since. The orange panda hats were a little slow to come back at first, but eventually Sandoval was able to re-establish himself as the Kung Fu Panda again, turning himself into the ultimate team player, and even pitching in two games and getting his own Let Pablo Pitch bobblehead, all of which let the fanbase fall in love with him again.
It’s not just the San Francisco fans that mean a lot to Sandoval, though. He also has nothing but love and respect for his manager.
“He’s like my dad here. I came back especially for him and fan support,” Sandoval said about Bruce Bochy.
“It’s exciting when you have a manager who respects you in that way. Tells good things to everyone about you … You always pay him respect because I want to play for him hard and do everything the right way.”
Bochy, who saw the Giants reveal a Thank You Boch banner in left field as part of his own farewell this month from the Giants, knew what the moment meant. After Sandoval’s last at-bat, he told Pablo how much the good times the two had had together meant to him.
“It’s his last at bat here with me as manager,” Bochy said after the game. “That’s all I said. ‘It’s been a joy.’ It’s good to get one more at-bat. Obviously, we were hoping he’d get a piece of it, but I think he saw how much he’s loved here with the crowd. What a great ovation they gave him.”
Sandoval would have loved to get a hit in that last at-bat, but he was excited to get the chance to hit one more time at home, in front of the Giants fans and the manager who have given him so much.
“I think the most important thing in this was the love that I got from them,” Sandoval said. “I know that I was lost. I didn’t see a pitch for two weeks, but I had to do it before I got surgery because this fan support gave me a lot of things. A lot of love, a lot of passion. I wanted to give back something to them before I got surgery.”