Sandoval's big game cuts Giants' magic number to 5

Sandoval's big game cuts Giants' magic number to 5

Sandoval's big game cuts Giants' magic number to 5
SAN FRANCISCO -- Welcome to the party, Pablo Sandoval.

While numerous Giants have taken turns occupying center stage, Sandoval has mostly remained out of the spotlight. But the switch-hitting third baseman proved Wednesday that he remains capable of dynamic performances by hitting his first home run since July 8 in the Giants' 7-1 victory over the Colorado Rockies.

Matt Cain established a personal single-season best with his 15th victory, which lengthened the Giants' winning streak to three and their National League West lead to nine games over second-place Los Angeles. San Francisco also trimmed its magic number for clinching the division to five.

"We feel like when the day starts, we're going to go out there and win," Cain said, describing the Giants' collective confidence. "If we have a bad day, it's no big deal."

Sandoval's three-hit effort featured a three-run homer in the first inning. By golfing Tyler Chatwood's 1-2 pitch off the base of the right-field foul-pole screen, Sandoval concluded a stretch of 181 plate appearances, spanning 41 games, without a longball. He also broke an 11-game streak without an RBI.

Teammates were encouraged -- and somewhat amused -- to see Sandoval go deep.

"That was good. That was really good," Cain said. "We were actually talking to him today about how he hadn't hit a home run since, like, three years ago."

Sandoval flashed his characteristic sense of humor while discussing his homer.

"It was a back-door slider -- no, it was a back-foot slider," he said, describing the pitch he mashed. "It was low. If I didn't hit it, I probably would have gotten hit by that pitch. I don't know how I hit it."

Sandoval related that when he returned to the dugout, the first exultant teammate he noticed was sidelined relief ace Brian Wilson. "I started jumping around with him, and I was excited," Sandoval said. "Two months, that's a long time."

Sandoval attributed his burst of hitting to extra batting-practice sessions under hitting coach Hensley Meulens' supervision. "You get one hit in the game and you see all the work that you've been doing," said Sandoval, whose fifth-inning single launched a three-run uprising that included Gregor Blanco's two-run single. Blanco also enjoyed a resurgent night, amassing three hits for the first time since July 3.

Sandoval has continued to hit mostly third in the batting order during his powerless period. Time will tell whether his ninth homer of the season will spark a late-season -- and postseason -- binge of run production. With Angel Pagan and Marco Scutaro constantly reaching base in front of him and Buster Posey terrorizing pitchers behind him, Sandoval could give the Giants' burgeoning offense an added boost if he can thrive. Manager Bruce Bochy implied that Sandoval's homer will relieve his self-imposed pressure. "It's important for him to get that [home run] out of the way," Bochy said.

Meanwhile, Cain (15-5) eclipsed the 14-8 mark he posted in 2009. "It feels good to finally get past that 14 number," said Cain, who finished 13-11 in 2010 and 12-11 last year. "But you know what? We've got games left and I don't want to stop now."

It was a fruitful evening for Cain, who passed the 200-inning level for the sixth consecutive season, lowered his home ERA to 2.17 in 14 starts and improved to 15-7 lifetime against the Rockies, whom he has defeated more than any other club.

The most important number associated with Cain was eight, which denoted his innings pitched. While yielding four hits and Colorado's lone run, he became the first Giants starter to last that long since Barry Zito worked eight innings on Aug. 23 against Atlanta.

"We needed it," Bochy said of Cain's endurance. "We had some guys at the back end of the bullpen who needed a break."

Referring to his frequent trips to the mound while installing 17 relievers in the previous three games, Bochy jokingly said, "I'll have to get on the treadmill tonight to get my workout in."

Chris Haft is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.