'Duk

Panda's return runs gamut of emotions, ends with pure joy

Big League Stew

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If you watched Pablo Sandoval's(notes) postgame interview on MLB Network on Wednesday night, you saw the Giants' third baseman not even try to hide the joy he was experiencing. While responding to each question, Kung Fu Panda smiled, giggled and laughed just like, well, a 24-year-old guy who just helped his team move one win away from a World Series appearance.

"It's one of those dreams where you're a little kid and you're thinking my dream's come true," Sandoval said after the game. "I'm here in the postseason. Last year I was at home on the beach."

For the first three games of this NLCS, Sandoval was on the bench. But manager Bruce Bochy took Steve Henson's advice and gave Sandoval the starting nod for Game 4.

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The decision appeared to pay off in the bottom of the sixth when Sandoval hit what looked like a two-RBI double down the right field line. But even though it appeared to hit the outside of the chalk, it was ruled a foul ball and Sandoval had to go back to where he was. So, too, did runners Pat Burrell(notes) and Cody Ross(notes).

As writers everywhere prepared for another chorus of instant replay demands, it looked like Sandoval had been jobbed of his best chance to make an impact. But he instead channeled the same resilient demeanor that kept him a positive presence in the dugout after problems at the plate and in the field led to him being benched during the NLDS.

"I just calmed down," he said. "Count to 10. Breathe. Get a pitch you can hit."

And get a pitch he did as Sandoval drove a Chad Durbin(notes) fastball into the left-center gap to bring home Burrell and Ross for a 5-4 Giants lead.

The credits could have rolled there and everyone could have gone home happy. But because nothing has come easy for him in his sophomore slump season, Sandoval hit a bumpy road the next inning when he killed what could have been an insurance-adding rally with a double play to end the inning. It looked like Sandoval, who might be the only player big enough to be a hero and a goat, would get a shot at somehow notching both.

But while the Phillies tied the game in the eighth, Juan Uribe's(notes) sac fly in the ninth saved Sandoval and Panda was one of the first to tackle Uribe in the postgame celebration.

The crowd at AT&T Park (and presumably these two kids) went nuts.

After an extended absence, the third baseman that originally inspired people to buy Panda hats and create even more elaborate costumes (see below) had returned.

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