April 2014

Sandoval’s big day: Illusion or the real thing?

Sunday, April 27

SAN FRANCISCO — False alarms signaling Pablo Sandoval’s hitting resurgence have sounded on a handful of occasions already this year.

Thus, any enthusiasm over Sandoval’s outburst of offense (2-for-4) in the Giants’ 4-1 victory Sunday over the Cleveland Indians must be tempered. He’s still hitting only .180.

But the season is so young that just a few big games will restore Sandoval’s batting average to respectability.

Sandoval insisted that he’s not dwelling on his statistics. “I don’t look at my numbers. The only thing I care about is winning,” he said Sunday for about the fifth or sixth time this year.

That’s a wise comment from a guy who’ll become a free agent at the end of this season. But why be cynical? All of us who have watched Sandoval since he ascended to the Giants late in the 2008 season believe in his baseball passion and his hitting ability.

Sandoval’s production at the plate in the series finale against Cleveland indeed appeared to be the start of something big. Batting left-handed against hard-throwing Indians right-hander Danny Salazar, Sandoval drilled his fourth-inning double into the left-field corner before scoring on Brandon Crawford’s double. In Sandoval’s next plate appearance, he singled to right-center on a 2-2 pitch — his first hit of the season on a two-strike count. Was this the vintage Sandoval who sprays line drives to all fields? It certainly seemed that way.

Maybe it was just a coincidence that Barry Bonds, who needs no introduction, visited the Giants clubhouse on Sunday.

Speaking to Manolo Hernandez-Douen, the excellent Spanish-speaking baseball writer, Sandoval said he recently scrutinized videotapes of his at-bats and observed, “I see what I was doing wrong.” The next few games could reveal whether Sandoval truly has righted those wrongs.

Chris Haft

Celebrate! Celebrate! Kuiper’s HR to be observed


SAN FRANCISCO — One might be the loneliest number, as the song says. But not for Giants broadcaster Duane Kuiper, whose lone Major League home run will be celebrated Friday at AT&T Park with a bobblehead giveaway, courtesy of Comcast SportsNet Bay Area.

“Look — the numbers don’t lie,” Kuiper said Thursday, one day before the Giants open a six-game homestand against the Cleveland Indians, the team Kuiper spent his first eight Major League seasons with — hence the promotion’s timing. “It’s not like you can go back to your career stats and go, ‘Wait, you guys are full of it. I hit a bunch of home runs.’ ‘No, you didn’t. You hit one.’ So you have to play with it. You have to have some fun with it. If I had hit two, there’s no bobblehead [Friday] night. … You can tell when people are trying to be mean-spirited about it. And for the most part, people are never mean-spirited about it.”

That’s at least partly due to the popularity Kuiper has built since becoming a Giants broadcaster in 1987, two years after his playing career ended with San Francisco. Said Kuiper, “I’ve been a broadcaster in this market for, what, 25 or more years? I’m quite sure that’s got more to do with it than anything else. I’m quite sure that if I had gone into selling cars, I don’t think there would be a bobblehead night for me.”

Kuiper insisted that he never was a home-run hitter — not even in high school, where future Major Leaguers typically dominate their competition. “I’m from Wisconsin,” Kuiper reminded. “We played 10 games (a season).” Kuiper estimated that he hit one home run in high school, four or five while playing for Indian Hills Community College in Centerville, Iowa, and one at Southern Illinois Universiy.

“I wasn’t allergic to hitting them,” said Kuiper, who finished with a respectable .271 career Major League average. “But my swing wasn’t the type of swing where you were going to pull a lot of balls. I hit a lot of balls to the opposite field.”

Frank Robinson, who managed Kuiper in Cleveland (and later in San Francisco), ordered his No. 2 hitter to put the ball in play and abandon any thoughts of home runs. That might have tempered Kuiper’s power, which he unleashed on Aug. 29, 1977, in the first inning at Cleveland Stadium against White Sox right-hander Steve Stone. Kuiper’s first-inning drive off Stone, who began his career with the Giants and also became a broadcaster, would stand alone among his 3,754 big-league plate appearances.

“If it stays in the air, you’re not going to play,” Kuiper said, recalling Robinson’s dictum. “Which, I know now, was total baloney. But at that time, anything he said to me, in my mind, was God’s word.”

— Chris Haft