Pablo Sandoval and his Nestea Plunge nanoseconds after catching the final out of the 2014 World Series symbolized a franchise at its apex. History tells us the San Francisco Giants, with or without Sandoval, are on an impossible trajectory to continue.
During the free agency era (1975-present) only one other team has won three World Series in five years (The Fab Four Yankees 1998-2000) and nobody else has done it without winning back to back.
Of the back-to-back series winners in that timeframe (the ’75-’76 Reds, the ’77-’78 Yankees, the ’92-’93 Blue Jays and the Yankees teams) none have done it in the wake of a big off-season signing and none have done it without keeping their home-grown nucleus in tact.
Consider Sandoval a 240-pound proton.
A 16-year-old when he signed with the team in 2002 at the height of another era, The Bonds Era, he broke in with the big league club in 2008 and grew into a clubhouse leader as well as a jacket size to match his number 48. He was by all counts a conduit between 4th and King and his homeland Venezuela. The Giants, prior to Sandoval’s leaving, had seven Venezuelans on the roster, all of whom played in glorious harmony with their super hero shirt-wearing comrades. Winning sometimes does make unusual or at least bi-lingual bedfellows.
It is season-appropriate to think of Sandoval as George Bailey, so full of promise and want for adventure as a teen, he couldn’t wait to grow up and break free of the tiny toy town and the cozy stadium by the bay. Be luck or circumstance, forces beyond him conspired to make him stay in the confines of
Bedford Falls AT&T through his prime. Whether benched in his first post-season or lionized with a World Series MVP his second, Pablo could never quite shake the reputation as lovable big guy, the one Giants fans took for granted.
Pablo celebrated his wonderful life by running up and down Market Street hugging and kissing and screaming to the 100,000 strong who were watching more a farewell than a victory parade.
In turns, it has been Timmy’s team and Cain’s team and Buster’s team and Madison’s team—that’s not a bad homegrown foursome right there. And they will remain.
But it was Pablo’s crowd and Pablo’s clubhouse. He did something Mays, McCovey, Marichal, Clark, Williams and Bonds couldn’t. He anchored the heart of a lineup of a winner and he made it look easy in the clutch. His final game in a Giants uniform, he went 3-for-3 with a double and a pair of runs scored. Prior to his first at-bat, where he was already hitting well north of .400 for the series, he gave the Fox network camera a wink, as if he already knew what would unfold over the course of the next two hours and twenty minutes.
Or maybe it was just a wink goodbye.
The Yankees’ Fab Four stuck around in pinstripes their entire careers and have one for the index and one for the thumb. But it wasn’t all Champagne baths. There was Pettitte’s admission to using human growth hormone in 2007; Rivera’s bittersweet final walk to the mound in 2013; Posada’s last season in 2011, hitting .235 and wobbling around the base paths on rusty hinges. Jeter’s final at-bat at Yankee Stadium last season, a game-winning walk-off single. Not really knowing what to do, he strode back to the infield dirt, his home for a pair of decades and crouched like a veteran in Arlington over one of his fallen brothers’ graves. There he shed a tear. Because it was over.
Sandoval will have no such sweaty-eyed punctuation on his career as a Giant. He went out on top with the one that brung him. The prep star leaving his letterman jacket hanging over his folding desk chair and closing the door on his room full of trophies, already gathering dust.
The lights won’t shine so bright at AT&T without Pablo protecting the left field grass from scorched grounders and doubles down the line. Sandoval may have left on the tail of whimsy and some bad, or at least short-sighted, advice, but he left at the right time for him. And that’s what scorned fans seem to forget.
Instead the Lunatic Fringe are currently clamoring for a Lester or a Scherzer or a Samardzija or a Shields to join the rotation for well into nine figures and six years. The ballclub should let the BoSox, Yanks, ChiSox, Cubs, Cardinals, Dodgers and Tigers battle it out for those bloated contracts.
The reigning world champs already have three homegrown aces—one in his prime, one coming off elbow surgery and one in a contract year. Tim Hudson can still roll out on a July Wednesday afternoon and give up four runs over five-and-a-third and Yusmeiro Petit, the unsung long reliever of the post-season, is ready for a promotion.
If the Giants do have to give the season ticket holders something to nosh on at the holiday office party while That Guy is blabbing about how good Fernet is, they should make it Brett Anderson. Underused and unsung in Colorado, Anderson broke his left index finger in April and had season-ending back surgery in August. Prior to his early exit, he had a 2.19 ERA and a ground ball rate of 61 percent. At 26, he’s a half-decade younger than Lester and fits with the NL West runner-up’s business model of reclamation projects.
Like the recently heartbroken running around during last call looking for a welcoming set of eyes, tinny breath and a warm embrace, only time will heal the emptiness that Sandoval’s absence has created. But Pablo may have done the Giants a favor by choosing to play out the end of his career in the shadow of the Green Monster. Nobody likes being dumped after the best date ever, but sometimes, it’s better that that special someone just go ahead and take the job on the East Coast and leave before lust and love turn to familiarity and contempt.
The pain goes away and eventually there’s a smile at the thought of the ex dealing with a bunch of drunk Massholes exaggerating their accents and grabbing ass at Dunkin’ as you watch the sails billow and bob around the bay and remember the beautiful moment you shared.