Panda learns from '10, now a key factor in playoffs
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FRANCISCO -- Two years ago, as the Giants were capturing the franchise's first World Series since moving to San Francisco, an out-of-shape Pablo Sandoval watched from the dugout, relegated to a diminished role because of a lack of production.
In 2012, the Giants have earned a return to the Fall Classic. But this time, Sandoval is a key player in the team's championship aspirations, having regained his starting third-base job and punishing opposing pitchers in this year's postseason.
"I'm happy, with the same satisfaction as before," Sandoval said at Tuesday's media session at AT&T Park. "Two World Series in three years. I think I'm blessed, because not many players get to live this dream."
Sandoval has had to work hard to regain the form he showed in 2009 as a promising 23-year-old.
In November 2010, with Sandoval overweight and having been displaced by Juan Uribe as the starting third baseman in San Francisco during the playoffs, the Venezuelan native was issued a clear challenge by the Giants organization: Get in shape or you'll find yourself in Triple-A.
"Those are things that happen in your career, things that God puts in your path to see how you take them," Sandoval said. "I learned from them."
That winter, "Kung Fu Panda" followed a strict diet and embarked on a comprehensive conditioning program in Arizona in order to lose weight and get into better shape.
"You've got to hold your head high and your feet on the ground to achieve what you want to do," he said. "I worked hard and I'm seeing the results."
Everyone has seen the results. In spite of hand and hamstring injuries that have put a dent in his playing time the last two seasons, Sandoval has bounced back from his dismal showing at the end of 2010. He hit .283 in 108 games and 396 at-bats during the 2012 regular season, with 12 home runs and 63 RBIs.
But the 26-year-old has saved the best for last in 2012. In 12 postseason games, he has hit at a .320 clip with three home runs, nine RBIs and an OPS of .920. He was a key contributor in the Giants' comeback from a 3-1 deficit in the National League Championship Series against St. Louis, hitting .310 in the series with two home runs, six RBIs and a .941 OPS.
"He's a big part of this team," said Giants catcher Eli Whiteside, who has seen the good and not so good in Sandoval's career in San Francisco. "When he goes, we go. He gets on in front of Buster [Posey] and makes things happen.
"He's had his ups and downs, but he always comes back and he works hard. He's a good guy to have in the clubhouse and on the field. Just like everyone in that clubhouse, everybody works. We've got a common goal. This is our goal -- to get to the World Series every year. He got away from himself a little bit, but he's playing great now. That's what we've needed down the stretch. He's been solid."
Giants ace Matt Cain has also seen Sandoval's transformation since that fateful wakeup call in November 2010.
"That shows what kind of competitor he is and kind of teammate he is," Cain said. "He wanted to be better and he wanted to play well. They put that challenge in front of him, and he took it.
"We've all known the player that he was; it just seemed like that year some things weren't clicking for him. Last year and then this year, it's been working. That will happen every once in a while. You'll have years where you're not the same guy, and I'm not really sure why. But he's been huge for us."
Now Sandoval has a chance not only to get a second World Series ring, but to do it this time as a one of the main cogs in the Giants' attack.
"In life you can't be satisfied with anything, you've got to keep working and achieving goals," Sandoval said. "One of my goals this year was to be in the World Series. Now that I'm part of it, it's time to try to win it."