Here is a link to my Sunday column on Pablo Sandoval. The full text runs below:
SAN FRANCISCO — Tony Bennett didn’t sing in China Basin on Saturday.
It’s nice to hear Tony croon “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” after every Giants home win, a lovely tradition at AT&T Park, Tony with his raspy meticulous understated voice putting all that emotion into it.
No Tony for the Giants after the Rockies beat them 1-0.
The crisis moment of the game, the moment the Giants could have won, happened in the bottom of the eighth.
Pablo Sandoval came to the plate with the bases loaded and two outs against reliever Rex Brothers, who was having trouble locating the plate. His ball was darting to all the wrong places and this was the Giants’ chance.
With two strikes, Sandoval lunged for a low outside changeup — clearly a ball — and swung an awkward swing and missed the ball and the Giants’ opportunity vanished.
Right now, Sandoval’s batting average is .152. When a man bats that low, that subterranean, he usually gets a one-way Greyhound ticket to Minor-Leagueville.
No one expects Sandoval to make a quick jaunt to Triple-A. But it’s hard not to notice one thing.
This is his contract year.
He needs to do well, to show he’s the real thing so he can earn the get-set-for-life contract ballplayers crave, the Barry Zito contract or something like that. Sandoval’s lot is particularly thorny because of his weighty weight issues and because he’s not fielding or hitting well.
Before play on Saturday, he had the third-worst fielding percentage of National League third basemen. He contributed to the bad percentage on Thursday against Arizona when he fielded a grounder with men on first and second and unwisely threw to first — he should have held the ball. The throw was bad and the tying run scored and the Giants lost in extra innings.
He sure looked like a man who’s pressing and, in case you don’t know the lingo, pressing means trying too hard, putting pressure on yourself. If Sandoval is pressing, it’s because he’s on a contract drive.
Before Saturday’s game, manager Bruce Bochy addressed the issue of Panda pressing: “The one thing you don’t want Pablo to do is get away from playing the game the way he normally plays it — and that’s with a lot of passion, enthusiasm,” Bochy said.
“Thinking about the contract, money, it can be a distraction. He assured me it’s not. He’s going to let his agent handle that, and he’s got to take care of business on the field. You’ve got to be who you are. That’s a great quality of his is how he plays the game and how he loves to play. It’s never been for money, for the wallet, and you certainly don’t want that happening now with him.”
Well, maybe he doesn’t care about the wallet and maybe he does.
Sandoval sure didn’t look like he was pressing in the bottom of the fourth. He led off the inning with a double to left-center that skidded past centerfielder Charlie Blackmon, but Michael Morse came up with men on first and second and no one out and hit into a double play. It was a bad at-bat and pretty much killed the threat. On the day, Morse got no hits and struck out twice.
After the game, I asked Bochy the pressing-Panda question again, specifically referencing Sandoval’s strikeout with the bases loaded.
“You have to think about the leadoff double he hit, too,” Bochy said. “We’re down a run and he started the inning with a double. We couldn’t get him in. We had the right guys up there. (Brothers) made a pretty good pitch on him the last pitch to get him to chase there.
“We have two or three guys that aren’t swinging the bat like they can. I can’t tell you if they’re pressing or not. Sometimes that’s human nature. You don’t get off to a great start, you start looking at numbers. They’re good hitters. They’ll come around. Their numbers will be there at the end of the day. Be nice to get them going now, though.”
The other notable hitter who’s not hitting is Hunter Pence, .167, and he’s not in a contract year. That means Sandoval may not be pressing. It could just be one of those things with Sandoval, a passing phase.
After Bochy spoke, I waited for Sandoval in the clubhouse. I waited 35 minutes. I do not expect you to care that I waited. I attend games and I get to talk to the players, and you don’t, and I have a job you would die for. I get all that.
But I’m not talking about my time or my job or my inconvenience. I’m talking about proper behavior. I’m talking about being a standup guy, a notion that is fading in the rearview mirror. Dennis Eckersley and Will Clark and Jeffrey Leonard — I could name hundreds — always were there right away after their team lost, after they loused up.
Baseball culture has declined. Morse never showed. He might have been there and I missed him, but he’s a big guy and I think I would have noticed him. Sandoval finally showed up. He was polite and never took offense when I asked about pressing. I wish he had stood up sooner. It would have been more standup.
He said he’s not pressing. He said he has patience at the plate. He would notice if he’s pressing — he’d be rushing his swing. And he’s not. After a loss, he leaves baseball at the park and goes home and takes his mind off things.
He may be telling the truth. He may not be pressing and he may not be thinking contract. But something is wrong with his hitting and his fielding, and he needs to make it right in a hurry.
(For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at firstname.lastname@example.org.)