(MCT) — SAN FRANCISCO — Bam-boom.
Eschewed so often in affectionate favor of the Kung Fu Panda moniker, the real name of Pablo Sandoval on Wednesday night became forever etched onto a rarified list.
Sandoval, the Giants’ jovial third baseman, hit three home runs as the Giants beat the Detroit Tigers, 8-3, in Game 1 of the World Series.
The Giants struck first in a series for the first time this postseason thanks in large part to Sandoval, who became just the fourth player to homer three times in a World Series game. The others: Reggie Jackson, Albert Pujols and Babe Ruth, who did it twice.
“Man,” Sandoval said, “I still can’t believe it.”
Nobody had a better view of history than Buster Posey, the man batting behind Sandoval in the lineup and who greeted Sandoval each time he touched home plate.
“The third one I just looked at him and said, ‘Wow,’” Posey said. “He was fired up the first one and the second one. And the third one it was almost like he was taken aback. I think he was trying to soak it in a little bit.”
No player had hit three home runs in a game at AT&T Park since the day it opened, April 11, 2000, when Kevin Elster of the Dodgers did it. The Giants hit just 31 home runs at home this regular season.
And Tigers ace Justin Verlander, the fireballing right-hander, came in as the most dominant pitcher this postseason, having allowed two runs in 241/3 innings.
So, naturally, Sandoval took Verlander deep twice and added a fifth-inning shot off reliever Al Alburquerque, staking the Giants to a commanding 6-0 lead as left-hander Barry Zito continued his resurgence, holding the Tigers scoreless for five innings. Sandoval singled in his fourth at-bat.
“That’s the most amazing thing,” said Aubrey Huff. “It’s not like he’s hitting them off some guy throwing 86 (mph). He’s taking balls that Verlander’s pitching where he wanted to put them.”
That Game 1 was played at AT&T Park could be traced back to the first meeting of Sandoval and Verlander this year, in the first inning of the All-Star Game. Sandoval’s three-run triple off Verlander keyed the National League’s five-run inning in a blowout that gave the eventual N.L. champion home-field advantage for the World Series.
The triple came on a curveball. In the first inning Wednesday, Sandoval fell behind Verlander 0-2, a count in which the right-hander had allowed five home runs in his career. He delivered a fastball a little high, and Sandoval smoked it over the fence in right-center field to give the Giants a 1-0 lead.
“My favorite was the first one,” said Giants hitting coach Hensley Meulens. “Because it was an 0-2 count and it was a 95-mph fastball up in the zone. It’s hard to hit those pitches out, at 95 especially.”
In the third, Angel Pagan doubled with two outs and scored when Marco Scutaro singled up the middle, bringing Sandoval up again. Verlander fell behind 2-0, prompting a visit from pitching coach Jeff Jones. Verlander stared at Jones as he walked and, when Jones reached the mound, appeared to mouth, “What are you doing out here?”
The next pitch, a fastball, came in low and away, and Sandoval went with it into the left-field seats.
“I think Verlander threw the pitch he wanted. (Sandoval) just took it the other way,” Huff said. “And you almost felt like after he hit that one he was going to hit another one.”
Two innings later, Sandoval dug out a low slider from Alburquerque, depositing it over the wall in center. It was the first time a Giant had hit three home runs in a game since Barry Bonds did it Aug. 2, 1994, at Candlestick Park.
“We were going nuts in there,” Zito said of the Giants’ dugout.
“Just going up against Verlander, I was coming out here expecting a game that was going to be 1-0, 2-0,” Zito said. “To go up early in the game like that, get first blood, get the momentum going … it was just awesome.”
Verlander departed after four innings, having thrown 98 pitches. Insult added to injury in the fourth, when with two outs and Brandon Belt on second, Verlander threw a 97-mph fastball that Zito threw his bat head at and lined into left field for an RBI single.
That made it four games in a row a Giants pitcher has driven in a run, the first time that has happened in the postseason.
On the mound, Zito wasn’t bad either, stymieing the Tigers for most of 52/3 innings with help from left fielder Gregor Blanco, who made two nearly identical catches on headfirst dives in the third and sixth innings.
Pagan, Scutaro and Sandoval combined to go 8 for 12, with Scutaro driving in two runs. The Tigers added two in the ninth on Jhonny Peralta’s homer off George Kontos.