One last hit? Panda caps night of ovations with gift 'for the fans'

March 27th, 2024

SAN FRANCISCO – has never shied away from showing his emotions on the field, and Tuesday night proved to be no exception.

Sandoval struggled to hold back tears as he was showered with ovations during a 3-1 exhibition loss to the A’s at Oracle Park, which could mark the beloved third baseman’s final appearance in a Giants uniform.

The three-time World Series champion and two-time All-Star looked visibly emotional when he jogged out of the dugout to replace Matt Chapman at third in the top of the sixth inning, doffing his cap to the crowd while drawing sustained cheers from thousands of fans who got on their feet and waved signs with “We ♥ You Pablo” on one side and a cartoon panda on the other.

Sandoval, 37, struck out swinging in his first at-bat against A’s reliever Austin Adams in the bottom of the sixth, but he capped his possible swan song by lining a broken-bat single off right-hander Vinny Nittoli to lead off the ninth. Sandoval fell behind, 0-2, and fouled off three straight two-strike pitches before muscling an 89.4 mph cutter just over the head of a leaping Abraham Toro at second base.

“I think this is one of the most special moments I’ve had in my career,” Sandoval said. “I don’t know if it’s my last at-bat here, but it was great. It was unbelievable. Getting that hit was the most important thing for the fans. Not for me, but for the fans.”

Sandoval, who swung at 11 of the 13 pitches he saw on Tuesday, clapped his hands and pointed to the sky before being replaced by pinch-runner Donovan Walton, allowing the crowd to fete him once more as he jogged off the field.

“We were trying to get as many ovations as we possibly could,” manager Bob Melvin said. “I don’t know how it could have gotten better than that. We got him out on the field, got a hit. The baseball gods smiled on him. He got another ovation coming off the field. That was pretty neat to see.”

Sandoval was intent on fighting for a spot on the Giants’ Opening Day roster after reuniting with the club on a Minor League deal, but his chances of making the team became virtually nonexistent after Chapman was brought into the fold earlier this month.

Despite having no clear fit with the Giants, Sandoval reiterated that he’s willing to go to Triple-A Sacramento and continue to fight for a chance to return to the Majors for the first time since 2021.

“Everyone thinks I’m retiring,” Sandoval said. “I’m not. I’m going to continue playing. If I get the opportunity to go to Sacramento, I will. If not, I’m going to continue to work hard to get back.”

Still, Tuesday likely represented a final chapter in one of the most incredible career arcs in franchise history. The Panda became a fan favorite over his first seven seasons with the Giants, famously launching three homers in Game 1 of the 2012 World Series and then catching the last out of the Fall Classic two years later. After a disastrous three-year stint in Boston, a humbled Sandoval returned to San Francisco in 2017 and carved out a new role as a valuable bench player and clubhouse leader.

Sandoval continued to make his presence felt in the Giants’ clubhouse this spring, emerging as a valuable mentor for young Latino players like Luis Matos, Marco Luciano and Ismael Munguia. Among his parting lessons for the next generation?

“Never give up your dreams,” Sandoval said. “That’s one of the things that I always had with me. Never give up. Keep dreaming high and fight for everything you can do, no matter what people say. You have to keep battling and coming through for your dreams.”

Worth noting
• Right fielder said his wife, Paige, is scheduled to be induced and give birth to the couple’s second child on Friday, so he could be heading to the paternity list shortly after Opening Day. Players can miss up to three games while on paternity leave, so the Giants could turn to Matos to fill in while Yastrzemski is away.

made a late-inning appearance at first base on Tuesday, another sign that the Giants seem to be preparing him for a super utility role this season. Fitzgerald also saw time at shortstop, second base and center field this spring.

• Right-hander saw his final exhibition start cut short Tuesday after taking a 103 mph comebacker off his pitching arm with one out in the second inning. The Giants brought in Cody Stashak to replace Howard, who was later diagnosed with a right upper arm contusion.

Howard, 27, was reassigned to Minor League camp on Saturday, so he’s not expected to be in the mix for a spot on the Opening Day roster.