Pablo Sandoval rounded first base, and as he approached second base, he clapped his hands together twice and turned his head to smile at the Giants’ dugout.
It was the eighth inning Wednesday, game seven of the World Series, and the Giants were nursing a 3-2 lead at Kauffman Stadium. With his two-out double off Wade Davis, Sandoval, the Giants’ third baseman, did something he has done all postseason — put himself in position to score for his team.
“Great players, they have a way of rising to the occasion,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. “He did that today.”
The hit was Sandoval’s 26th of this postseason, a major league record. And true to form, Sandoval — who won the World Series MVP two years ago and is set to become a free agent this offseason — picked an excellent game to live up to his well-earned reputation as a clutch performer.
On Wednesday, the 28-year-old went 3-for-3, improving his 2014 World Series average to .429. He was also hit by a pitch and scored two crucial runs, both of which were created, in part, by the 5-foot-11, 245-pounder’s legs.
The first came in the second inning, when Sandoval led off the inning and was struck in the elbow by a 90 mph cutter by Royals starter Jeremy Guthrie. Sandoval later came home to score on a sacrifice fly by Michael Morse as the Giants took a 1-0 lead.
The Giants added another run, and the Royals tied the score in the bottom of the inning. But Sandoval would soon score what turned out to be the game-winning run.
In the top of the fourth, he found a way to reach base with a hard-hit ground ball to second baseman Omar Infante. Infante had to venture to his right, however, and while he managed to field the ball barehanded, his throw to first bounced steps behind the hustling Sandoval.
Then, after a single by Hunter Pence put runners on first and second with no outs, Brandon Belt lofted a high fly ball to left field. Alex Gordon jogged back and settled under the ball, but Sandoval surprisingly decided to take off for third against Gordon, who has one of the league’s strongest arms.
The throw bounced in late, however, and Sandoval was safe again because of his hustle. The very next hitter was Morse, who drove Sandoval home once again, this time with a bloop hit to right field on a 99 mph fastball — on a 1-2 count — thrown by reliever Kelvin Herrera.
This gave the Giants a 3-2 lead, and while Sandoval twice failed to come home after hitting a single in the sixth and his aforementioned double in the eighth, that was all they would need, thanks to a superhuman effort by San Francisco left-hander Madison Bumgarner.
Still, it was fitting that in the bottom of the ninth, when Bumgarner — who made the Royals flail away on his steady mix of breaking pitches and 92 mph fastballs — forced one last harmless pop fly on what turned out to be the game’s final out, it was Sandoval who trotted under the ball in foul territory.
Sandoval caught the ball, dropped to his butt and then, his back. His arms were extended in the air, and as his teammates began to rush the field a few yards away, a smile was plastered across his face — the perfect end to yet another productive postseason for the man playfully nicknamed the Kung Fu Panda.