SAN FRANCISCO — He knew what he could do. But Freddy Sanchez wondered in the difficult times — when his body was slow in healing, when the fans and media were slow in acceptance — would there be a chance to do it?
"When you're hurt," concedes Sanchez, "and you're not out there with your guys, there are a million things going through your head. You're not in a good mental state. You're not on the field proving what you can do."
It didn't matter that he had been the best hitter in the National League a few years earlier. It didn't matter that he had undergone surgery over the winter on his left shoulder, and then this season on his sprained right shoulder.
It turns out, after the pain, literal and figurative, after missing the first month of the season, after receiving injections, after driving balls to right field and laying down well-placed sacrifice bunts, Sanchez was exactly that, a key to the Giants reaching the 2010 World Series, which begins tonight at AT&T Park.
"They traded for me," says Sanchez, a graduate of Burbank High and a former Glendale Community College standout, "to get to the playoffs, and last year I wasn't able to help them. Then I got hurt in spring training this year. Wow! Nothing was going right."
A great deal has gone right of late. Starting in mid-August, he was a vital contributor to the postseason drive, getting hits (at one stretch he was batting .375), moving runners along, hearing fans who when he came to plate chanted "Freddy, Freddy!"
Everyone loves a winner. Including the people on the field responsible for winning.
"After I got in the swing of things," said Sanchez, "things started going the way I hoped. And we're here now."
Where the 32-year-old Sanchez was at the moment Tuesday was under the bricks of the right field wall at AT&T, at a table with his name on it, as writers and broadcasters swarmed about, asking, among other things, what was bigger in his baseball life, a batting title or a World Series championship?
The answer was hardly a surprise.
"The World Series," he said. "That's what everybody plays the game for. I don't start a season and say, 'I want to win a batting title.' But we all say we want to win a ring. That's where every player wants to be."
Sanchez is four victories from that ring. So is everyone on both teams. He'll be going up against the virtually unbeatable Cliff Lee, pitching for Texas in the opener. The Rangers must face the Giants' two-time Cy Young winner, Tim Lincecum,
"He's a batting champion," Giants first baseman Aubrey Huff says when asked where Sanchez would be an advantage.
"We knew what kind of player he was when healthy."
He's also a solid infielder, as confirmed by Giants shortstop Juan Uribe, the guy who hit the series-winning home run against the Philadelphia Phillies in the NLCS.
"Once you understand your teammates," Uribe says of his relationship with the other half of the double-play combination, "and get along with him, everything comes easy."
Sanchez says he was accepted immediately by a group of Giants players recognized for their openness and, like the city they represent, their eccentricity. If Lincecum wears his hair shoulder-length, if closer Brian Wilson dyes his beard black (the rumor is with shoe polish), no problem.
And then there are the crowds at AT&T, the ballpark by the bay.
"I never knew what San Francisco was like," says Sanchez who grew up a Los Angeles Dodgers fan. "The atmosphere and energy we get to play in every night, we're lucky. These fans are one of the reasons we're here in the World Series."
So is Freddy Sanchez. As he hoped.