Panda lives up to name

Don’t ever forget the “Kung Fu” part of the nickname Kung Fu Panda.

The Giants won their third straight game Saturday with a 6-4 victory in Miami, and credit Pablo Sandoval’s superhero alter-ego with getting the Giants on the board. With Matt Cain and Henderson Alvarez setting the stage for what was shaping up to be a classic pitching duel, it was Sandoval who ultimately beat Alvarez, by legging out an infield single with two outs in the fourth inning.

On an in-between bounder to Marlins first baseman Logan Morrison, Sandoval smelled a hit when Alvarez was late covering first base. Sandoval went from an all-out sprint to a headlong dive into first, beating Morrison to the bag. But with Morrison trying to get the force with a hurried kick-slide, the big first baseman ended up spiking Sandoval flush on the right elbow.

All’s well that ends well though, as Sandoval proved true to his superhero persona by laughing off the injury and staying in the game. And oh yeah, not only did Brandon Belt score on the play to break a scoreless tie, the Giants went on to plate four runs in the inning, with a balk to score Buster Posey, a walk to Roger Kieschnick, and a clutch two-run double by Gregor Blanco.

It’s fitting the game was decided by Sandoval’s football style of play on Jim Davenport’s birthday. Currently in his seventh decade in professional baseball, Davenport is a former All-Star and Gold Glove third baseman who went on to manage the Giants in 1985, before taking an executive position with the organization in 2006.

Two years ago, I was fortunate enough to get to talk with Davenport about Sandoval’s aggressive style of play. This was before the infamous play from the 2012 National League Championship Series, when Matt Holliday blew up Marco Scutaro on a ridiculous barrel-roll slide at second base in Game 1. While Giants’ fans were outraged at the play, myself included, the truth of the matter is Sandoval plays the game the same way, and has made many similar such take-out slides as the notorious Holliday incident. It was precisely these types of slides by Sandoval that Davenport and I discussed.

Davenport commented quick and to the point: “The game has changed.”

With the way Sandoval wore being spiked Saturday night, it is obvious why the game has changed. And Sandoval’s even-keel reaction is precisely how to justify it. Giants fans should know full well that Sandoval plays hard in all facets of the game. It isn’t just the barrel-roll slides. It’s being the first player to the field and getting loose by taking a hundred line-drive seeds from his knees at third base. It’s tumbling over rails and into dugouts. It’s inviting big-time collisions by blocking the third-base bag on tag plays in the field. It’s staying in good enough shape, despite his big-bodied frame, to be able to find the extra gear to make miracles happen on the base paths. It’s playing all-out hardball all the time.

All told, it’s a wonder how Saturday’s game-changing play is the worst Sandoval has ever been spiked. But hey, he’s a superhero. Being bulletproof comes with the gig.

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