SAN FRANCISCO - Pablo Sandoval debuted a leaping, celebratory twirl that came on spontaneously after another dazzling night of defence.
So what if it wasn't quite a perfect 10 for the robust and reliable third baseman with the big grin and even bigger right arm. No doubt Sandoval has been doing everything right with his glove again this post-season.
"That was the first one," Sandoval said of his version of the pirouette.
Sandoval, MVP of the World Series two Octobers ago, crisply made all the tough plays and emphatically celebrated each triumph in a 5-0 win Sunday night against the Kansas City Royals that gave the Giants a 3-2 World Series lead.
After completing his throw for the final out, he leapt in the air and spun his body. He then pumped a fist and jumped for that signature side bump with first baseman Brandon Belt.
Belt likes to razz Sandoval: the first baseman forces his infield mate to get his legs a bit further off the ground for their air bump.
"I don't think so," Sandoval said, chuckling. "I just try to celebrate everything out there after a win."
Sandoval wasn't the only one to show off some snazzy glove work to back Madison Bumgarner.
On a team defined by star pitchers and a hard-nosed, unflappable bullpen, San Francisco's steady, slick defence has done so much to get this group on the cusp of another championship.
Now, the Giants must go on the road once more to try to close it out — just the way they did in 2010 at Texas and again two years later, closing out a four-game sweep of the Detroit Tigers in Motown. Game 6 is Tuesday night in Kansas City, with Jake Peavy taking the ball for San Francisco and trying for his second title in two years after winning it all with Boston last season.
To begin another stellar day, Sandoval snagged Eric Hosmer's bouncing grounder that hit the lip of the grass in front of him and suddenly stayed flat, then nabbed Hosmer at first just in time on a key play in the fourth inning.
"I love being under pressure," Sandoval said. "It's great the way that we're playing the ball. I'm proud of the small things out there to make a play. That's part of the game. One day it can go your way, one day it can go the other way."
Moments later, Belt dazzled all on his own when he fielded a groundball by Salvador Perez and raced the Kansas City catcher to first and slid into the bag for the forceout. He called it "a little bit of a botched play" after he miscommunicated with Bumgarner.
Even shortstop Brandon Crawford has been spot on after a shaky start in Game 1 at Kauffman Stadium. He led the team with 21 errors in the regular season.
Through the ugly slumps of June and September, San Francisco has found its groove with the gloves. The Giants are making the spectacular plays and the routine ones, something their opponents have struggled to do this post-season.
"It's one of the biggest reasons why we're here," Crawford said. "We're doing the little things right, and defence is one of them."
While Hunter Pence has the defensive highlight play in these playoffs, when he slammed his back into the right-field wall at AT&T Park to rob Washington's Jayson Werth of extra bases, unheralded outfielders Travis Ishikawa and Gregor Blanco also have made clutch catches to thwart potential rallies.
"That's huge for us, especially in games like this against good teams we've got to have plays like that," Belt said.
The back-to-back defensive gems in Game 5 allowed Bumgarner to work most efficiently on the way to the first World Series complete-game shutout since Josh Beckett in Game 6 of the 2003 Series for the champion Marlins.
Bumgarner, who finished his four-hitter to chants of "M-V-P! M-V-P!" will be sure to offer a firm pat on the back to everybody behind him. It often starts with the Gold Glove candidate Kung Fu Panda at third base. He has that foursome of fans in gigantic panda hats right behind home plate cheering his every dive, stop and even an occasional awkward tumble.
The southpaw Bumgarner has done his part all post-season, yet again. The snazzy glove work has been a nice bonus.
For Bumgarner, "You want to do every little thing out there to support him, the way he's throwing the ball is incredible," Sandoval said.
Sandoval pumped his right fist after cleanly fielding Omar Infante's grounder and firing to first to end the seventh. Once he scooped another Hosmer grounder and ended the game on another perfect throw to first, Sandoval could really let loose.
"He's been good all year at third," manager Bruce Bochy said. "He's made himself into one of the better third basemen in the game and that's a credit to him and the work he put in."
By Janie McCauley, The Associated Press