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Back from Classic, Panda leaps into Giants lineup

Sandoval cherishes memories despite Venezuela's first-round elimination

Back from Classic, Panda leaps into Giants lineup

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Rarely are early March baseball games played with the same focus and intensity as those in late October.

En route to the 2012 World Series championship, the Giants fought off elimination in six games -- certainly trying times in San Francisco's clubhouse. For Pablo Sandoval, who hit .364 with 13 RBIs in the Giants' playoff run, the intensity at the World Baseball Classic was even stronger.

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"Worse than that," Sandoval said. "It's different because you've got so many chances in the playoffs. Over there you play three games."

Sandoval, alongside Giants teammate Marco Scutaro, played for his native Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic.

Despite the early exit Sandoval, who returned to the Giants on Tuesday, enjoyed the experience and said he would gladly do it again.

"I got a good experience, we all did," Sandoval said. "We faced the tough teams in the WBC, Puerto Rico and the Dominican [Republic]."

The 26-year-old Sandoval began collecting memories as soon as the World Baseball Classic began. Sandoval said listening to the starting lineups prior to the first game and seeing hordes of fans cheering for their respective countries stood out to him.

In addition to fans cheering on countries, another aspect of international competition caught Sandoval's eye: the national anthems.

"Hearing the other countries' [anthems] was exciting to me," Sandoval said.

Venezuela may not have performed as well as Sandoval or his teammates would have liked, but the Giants third baseman hit .308 with four RBIs in three games.

Sandoval also hit a home run, a moment he described as his favorite.

In the eighth inning of Venezuela's 11-6 victory over Spain -- Venezuela's lone victory in the tournament -- Tigers star Miguel Cabrera and Sandoval hit back-to-back home runs.

"First back-to-back [home runs] in the WBC," Sandoval said. "Miguel Cabrera and me. That's exciting for me."

Despite playing in the highly competitive Classic, Sandoval did not want to take any time off when he returned to the Giants.

Sandoval had yet to unpack his Venezuelan equipment bag prior to Tuesday night's game against the Padres but was itching to join his Giants teammates on the field at Scottsdale Stadium.

"I didn't have him in the lineup, [but] he came in and said he really wanted to play," manager Bruce Bochy said. "I had no reason not to play him, he's fine. I was going to give him another day, but he wanted to be out there."

Certainly a mid-March game in Scottsdale is nowhere near as competitive as either the playoffs or international competition, but Sandoval did not feel he would have any trouble adjusting back to Spring Training.

As a competitor and someone who is constantly trying to improve his craft, Sandoval's answer was simple.

"All games for me [are] big games."

William Boor is an associate reporter for MLB.com This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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