By Steve Ginsburg
DETROIT (Reuters) - Big-hitting San Francisco Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval, affectionately known as Kung Fu Panda, was named World Series MVP on Sunday, completing a stunning turnaround to a career that appeared to have stalled.
Facing persistent weight problems and a benching just two years ago, Sandoval hit .500 in the Giants' sensational four-game blowout of the Detroit Tigers in the World Series.
The burly, 26-year-old Venezuelan with an infectious smile said he changed his conduct to become a better player.
"You learn from the things that happen in your career," he told reporters. "You get up and down. You never give up. All the things that happened in my career, thank God it happened early rather than late in my career.
"I'm just blessed to be here and part of the 2012 World Series."
The Giants edged the Tigers 4-3 in 10 innings on Sunday night at chilly Comerica Park to wrap up the championship, a dominating series few people had predicted.
Sandoval set the tone for the Giants' triumph by hitting three home runs in the series opener, joining some illustrious company in the record books. Only Babe Ruth, Albert Pujols and Reggie Jackson have gone deep three times in the Fall Classic.
Two of Sandoval's home runs were against reigning Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander, arguably the best pitcher in the game. After the game, he received 300 text messages and a tweet from President Hugo Chavez back home in Venezuela.
"I still can't believe that game," said the two-time All-Star. "It's the game of your dreams. You don't want to wake up."
The Giants won three do-or-die games against Cincinnati in the National League Division Series to advance to the N.L. Championship Series against St. Louis.
Against the Cardinals they overcame a 3-1 deficit with three straight wins to reach the World Series. They were seen by many as the underdogs in the Fall Classic after the Tigers blitzed the New York Yankees in four straight in the ALCS.
Although Sandoval said he was honored to win the award, baseball is a team game.
"I say thank you to my team to give me the opportunity to be here," he said. "They fight 162 games, fight in the two last series. Winning six elimination games is tough.
"But I'm happy. I'm happy. I learned. I learned from my mistakes. But when you learn, you see all the results, you look more mature and you put all the pieces together."
Sandoval, who also played brilliantly at third base in the World Series, said his namesake, the stocky animated character Kung Fu Panda, is a perfect fit.
"It's me. It's me," he said. "The character is me, have fun, like a little kid, fight for everything, never lose faith."
(Editing by John O'Brien/Patrick Johnston)