Admit it. You didn’t even know Pablo Sandoval was on a big league roster this year.
It’s OK. Not a lot of people other than Braves fans — and Giants fans, because their love for all things Panda is eternal and they will always know where he is — knew that he’d made Atlanta’s Opening Day roster as an extra bat off the bench.
Sandoval showed on Thursday that his incredible flair for the dramatic, an ability to rise to the biggest moments, hasn’t left him just yet.
MORE: SN’s staff predictions for 2021 MLB season
The Braves hitters were being shut down on Opening Day by Phillies ace Aaron Nola, the right-hander who finished third in the 2018 NL Cy Young race and averaged 10.7 strikeouts per nine innings in 2019-20. And for 6 2/3 innings P.P. — Pre-Panda — he was vintage Nola.
He was the type of Nola who gives Phillies fans that unfamiliar feeling in their gut, that this might finally be the team that gets back into the playoffs for the first time since 2011. Nola had scattered five hits and struck out six, working efficiently into the seventh inning. But after he gave up a double to Christian Pache, Braves manager Brian Snitker brought Sandoval in to pinch hit.
And this happened. Zero doubt from the moment the bat connected with the 0-2 pitch.
It feels like Sandoval has been around forever, but he’s only 34. He won three rings with San Francisco when they were going on that “win the World Series title every other year” thing: 2010, 2012 and 2014.
In the 2012 World Series, he popped three home runs in Game 1 — the first two off Justin Verlander — and wound up winning the series MVP as the Giants swept the Tigers and he finished with an even .500 batting average. And in the 2014 World Series, he “only” hit .429, with 12 hits in seven games, after batting .400 in the NLCS.
He left the Giants to sign a five-year, $95 million free-agent contract with the Red Sox after the 2014 season and that was, by all measures, a bust. He hit just .245 with a 75 OPS+ in 2015, then played just 35 games over the next two seasons before he was released.
And not that this is quite the same thing, but it’s always fun to point out that Sandoval has pitched two mop-up innings in his big-league career — one in 2018 and one in 2019 — and he’s faced the minimum six batters.
Here’s hoping he sticks around many more years. Just don’t expect to see him back in Boston.