SAN FRANCISCO - As Pablo Sandoval stood in the on-deck circle awaiting his fourth at-bat Wednesday night, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez was tapping out a message on Twitter.
"He was like, 'I'm going to say congratulations to Pablo, but I'm just going to see the fourth homer right now,' " Sandoval said Thursday, revelling in the backwash of his history-making three-homer game that highlighted the San Francisco Giants' 8-3 victory in Game 1 of the World Series against the Detroit Tigers.
That fourth homer didn't come. Just a garden-variety single, off countryman Jose Valverde, so Sandoval better watch out. He may find all his assets nationalized when he gets back home for displeasing El Presidente.
At 5-foot-11 and, allegedly, 240 pounds, Sandoval has earned many nicknames during his time in pro ball. He has been called Fat Ichiro, The Round Mound of Pound and Little Money but the nickname that has resonated with Giants fans since he arrived on the scene in 2008 -- Kung Fu Panda -- was bestowed upon him by pitcher Barry Zito, the starter and winner Wednesday.
When Thursday morning arrived, Sandoval's name in all its various forms was being shouted from the rooftops.
"You know, I still can't believe it," he said. "In the morning when I wake up, all the stuff, my friends keep texting me -- 300 text messages, man, 300. So excited how the people paid attention to all the things in the game, all my friends back home, family, just excited to be part of this.
"But you know, you have to realize what's going on right now in your life, so you have to keep your head up and keep focused."
Game 1 was a stirring bit of business for the Giants and their crazy-in-love fans, what with neutralizing Tigers ace Justin Verlander, whose very presence seemed to give Detroit a false aura of invincibility. That aside, it was just one win in a series that requires four.
"Like Pablo said, you can't get too excited," Zito said. "When we're nice and calm, we always play our best baseball. Our talent is able to come out.
"But when you start kind of buying into all the hype and everything, you lose yourself a little bit; and so I was just very adamant on keeping everything slow pretty much from when I got up (Wednesday)."
Sandoval's feat of power is even more extraordinary in that it was accomplished in a locale that is stingy with its home runs. AT&T Park is considered a premier pitcher's park, yielding just 84 home runs this season, 25 fewer than any other big-league stadium.
"I'll never forget it," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "Three home runs on a stage like this, that's pretty impressive."
Sidelined by a broken hamate bone in his right hand for part of the season, Sandoval hit only 12 home runs this season. He already has hit six in 13 playoff games.
It has been a big year for Venezuelans in the major leagues. Sandoval's teammate, Marco Scutaro, was named MVP of the National League championship series. Johan Santana of the New York Mets tossed a no-hitter. Felix Hernandez threw a perfect game. And Miguel Cabrera won the AL triple crown.
"I'm just excited what we do this year, starting with a no-hitter, following with a perfect game, the Triple Crown and me, excited how we're working hard to get all these things together," Sandoval said. "You have to realize in your life, you have to be happy for all the work you do to get here."
That kind of outlook is what allowed Sandoval to shrug off the fact he received little playing time when the Giants won the World Series in 2010. He's able to appreciate what just getting to the World Series means.
"You know how many guys in the big leagues play for 20 years, 13 years, 15 years and don't get rings?" he said. "Many guys, so I'm happy. I just wanted to enjoy my moment. That's what I did (two years ago). I know after the World Series I have to work hard to get back to the things that I want to do, so that's what I did."
The three home runs put him in elite company, along with Babe Ruth, Reggie Jackson and Albert Pujols, men who have hit three home runs in a World Series game. In that fourth at-bat the Kung Fu Panda had a chance to go where no player had ever gone.
AT&T Park is the only park in the big leagues (or probably any league) that has an electronic scoreboard dedicated to splash hits, for baseballs that leave the premises in right field, landing in McCovey Cove. Right now, the counter is at 62 -- many of them authored by Mr. B. Bonds -- hit during the 12-year lifespan of this outstanding facility.
"We were hoping for a water shot, but he got a lousy single. Kind of killed the whole deal for us," Giants pitcher Jeremy Affeldt said, tongue in cheek.