Pablo Sandoval's return to his homeland for Friday's deciding game of the Venezuelan Winter League playoffs sent the hearts of his countrymen a-twittering. The Giants third baseman made his "rescue" flight from the Bay Area to Caracas late Thursday night, after the Leones de Caracas tied up their seven-game series with the Navegantes del Magallanes at 3-3.
In the deciding game, Caracas topped Magallanes, 7-2. Sandoval finished 1-for-4 with a single.
"I did everything possible to be here," Sandoval said upon his homecoming. "I couldn't sleep on the plane, just thinking of playing at a Caracas-Magallanes game. "This is not a commitment with myself, but a commitment to our fans, to my brother, to how I deeply regard Venezuelan baseball." Upon landing in the Venezuelan capital, he hitched a helicopter ride to Valencia, then received a police escort to the site of the game. And all of it was beamed live on a national television broadcast -- while the country's excited fans let loose a stream of emotional tweets. "Yes! Pablo Sandoval is in Venezuela!" was the recurring cyber-cheer. Sandoval then was promptly inserted into the Magallanes' lineup -- batting No. 3, as the designated hitter -- for one of the biggest baseball games in recent Venezuelan history. The Giants granted Sandoval special permission to the one-game sojourn, acceding to the infielder's passion to help defend the Magallanes' honor. "I didn't have permission but I talked to the GM when I was in Miami, and they said yes, but only as DH," Sandoval said. "A Caracas-Magallanes game is something else. You feel like your heart is going to come right out of your mouth," Sandoval had said earlier, when the championship series between the fierce rivals kicked off. This marks only the third time these two teams have clashed in the championship. Magallanes won the previous two meetings, in 1994 and '97. The winner of the series this week goes on to represent Venezuela in the Caribbean Series next month, which this year will be played on Venezuela's Margarita Island.