The Panda may be lovable to Atlanta fans but that’s definitely not how he was received in Fenway Park Tuesday night.
Pablo Sandoval, in the Braves lineup as designated hitter for the American League game, played poorly during a three-year tenure with the Boston Red Sox that started in 2015.
Once a World Series MVP while playing for San Francisco, his original team, Sandoval hit only .237 with 14 homers in 161 games after signing a hefty free-agent contract that more than doubled the dollars he was earning.
Now 34 and too hefty to play third base, Sandoval has found a second life as a pinch-hitter with power from both sides of the plate. He has four pinch-homers this season and serves as Atlanta’s DH during inter-league encounters.
In his first three at-bats at Fenway Park Tuesday night, he belted a long RBI single off the wall in dead center; poked an opposite-field single to left, hitting the ball through the vacated shortstop hole, and singled to center and scored Atlanta’s third run in the sixth inning of a 3-1 victory, the team’s fifth in a row at Fenway.
That only intensified the chorus of boos that greeted him in his former home park, now nearly deserted because of lingering pandemic restrictions in Boston. Despite spectacular spring weather in The Hub, less than 10,000 fans were allowed in for the Tuesday night game.
Though just 34, Sandoval seems much older – possibly because of his rotund figure and inability to move quickly on the basepaths.
On the other hand, the Venezuelan switch-hitter went into play Tuesday leading all pinch-hitters in home runs (4), runs scored (4), and runs batted in (10), while ranking second in walks and fifth (tied) in hits.
All four of his pinch-homers have come with two outs, men on base, and either tied the game or gave the Braves the lead.
No player since 1974 has hit as many as four pinch-homers with two men out.
Sandoval had come to spring training on a trial basis but hit .400 to win a $1 million contract – far from his peak salary of $17 million.
Now he has a shot at creating another niche in the history books, following his three-homer outburst in the first
game of the 2012 World Series.
Sandoval is within reach of the pinch-hitting record of seven home runs in a season. It is shared by Dave Hansen of the 2000 Dodgers and Craig Wilson of the 2001 Pirates.
Six of Hansen’s homers either tied the game or gave the Dodgers the lead.
In his 14-year career before 2021, Sandoval hit .279 with 153 home runs, almost all of them with the Giants.
With four pinch-homers this year, he has tied the Atlanta Braves record shared by Tommy Gregg, Evan Gattis, and Johan Camargo.
Sandoval has not started a game at a defensive position this year and often leaves for a pinch-runner when he reaches base. His girth and short, squat stature actually reminds observers of a previous pinch-hitter with punch, Smoky Burgess.
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