SAN FRANCISCO -- Giants-Dodgers baseball is serious business, but Pablo Sandoval's joyful spirit gave one of sport's most intense rivalries perhaps its funniest moment ever.
Sandoval, a third baseman by trade, pitched a 1-2-3 ninth inning for the Giants in their 15-6 loss Saturday to the Dodgers. Sandoval's relief appearance had a practical purpose, since it spared Giants manager Bruce Bochy from wasting a reliever's energy in a lopsided game.
Most importantly, the sight of Sandoval pumping across strikes -- eight in 11 pitches -- entertained all who witnessed his outing. That included the Dodgers, whose closer, Kenley Jansen, laughed helplessly as he watched Sandoval.
"Have fun," Sandoval said. "That's one of the things we're going for every day."
Sandoval's relief stint was the first by a Giants position player since utility man Greg Litton toed the rubber on July 4, 1991.
Saturday, as the Giants' deficit grew, Bochy pondered ways to prevent his bullpen from being overused, particularly with the second half of a day-night doubleheader against the Dodgers looming. As it was, Roberto Gomez and Derek Law worked three and 3 1/3 innings, respectively, after starter Chris Stratton lasted 1 1/3 innings and surrendered six runs.
So Bochy approached Sandoval during the seventh inning and asked him if he'd be willing to work a staff-saving inning.
"I knew without question he would want to do it," Bochy said. "He just loves playing baseball."
When the Giants used Austin Jackson to pinch-hit for right-hander Cory Gearrin in the eighth inning with nobody warming up in the bullpen, it became apparent that a Giants position player would finish the game on the mound. Speculation surrounded first baseman Brandon Belt, who has made no secret of his desire to pitch. But the choice was Sandoval, who coaxed groundouts from Max Muncy, Yasmani Grandal and Chris Taylor. Changing speeds freely, Sandoval threw pitches at velocities ranging from 87 to 63 mph.
"It did bring some levity to a real long game," Bochy said. "With that said, it was pretty impressive what he did."
What Sandoval did was record the only perfect innng by a Giants pitcher on an afternoon when the Dodgers amassed season highs in runs and hits. Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford, who has played catch with Sandoval for years, attested to his teammate's command.
"He was hitting corners," Crawford said. "You do that, it's tough to hit, tough to drive a ball, even if it's 87 or whatever it was that he hit. He got us some ground balls."
"A couple of more miles an hour, he's serviceable," right-hander Jeff Samardzija said.
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts also was suitably impressed: "[I] like Pablo, like the arm stroke. Good secondary. Sometimes it's amazing how certain people can make the game look so easy. It was a big inning for them. They needed him. It's a crazy game. I was thinking [Austin] Slater, but Pablo was the right choice. Touching 88."
Fate might have made Sandoval a left-handed pitcher. He was a natural southpaw, as he has attested. But as a youth, he yearned to catch and play shortstop. So his grandfather, Luis, taught him to throw right-handed. That, in a way, made this day possible.
"We lost a game," Bochy said, "but we had a little fun at the end."