SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — It was Panda-monium at the World Series opener on Wednesday night with an amazing power display put on by slugger Pablo “Panda” Sandoval.
Sandoval got the Giants started off with a bang in Game 1 by homering in the first, third and fifth innings as San Francisco cruised to an 8-3 rout of the Detroit Tigers behind the pitching of Barry Zito and Tim Lincecum.
“We’re still hot. We just came here and played our game,” Sandoval said, making reference to the Giants coming off an amazing Game 7 NLCS win over St. Louis just two nights prior — while the Tigers had a five-day layoff.
Sandoval became the fourth player in history to hit three home runs in a World Series game. Albert Pujols did it for St. Louis in Game 3 last year, Reggie “Mr. October” Jackson for the New York Yankees in Game 6 in 1977, and Babe Ruth accomplished the feat twice with the Yankees – in 1926 and 1928.
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Sandoval, nicknamed “Kung Fu Panda” for his roly-poly physique, connected twice off Justin Verlander and once off reliever Al Alburquerque.
He connected for a solo homer on a high 95 mph pitch with an 0-2 count in the first inning, sending the ball just over the wall in right-center. Then in the third, Sandoval hit a two-run, opposite-field drive into the seats in left field — bringing home Marco Scutaro for a 4-0 lead. Verlander simply said, “Wow!”
Once Verlander was lifted in the fifth inning, Sandoval struck again. This time, he hit another bases-empty shot into the center-field batter’s eye, giving the Giants a definitive 6-0 lead entering the game’s late innings.
Looking for his record-tying fourth home run, Sandoval singled in the seventh inning off demoted Tigers closer Jose Valverde as the Giants tacked on more runs. An Angel Pagan double and a Scutaro RBI single made it 7-1 Giants. Sandoval then singled and Buster Posey added a run-scoring single to make it 8-1.
With three homers and a single, it was a great performance by Sandoval, who was benched while slumping through the 2010 postseason.
It was also quite a blast for the Giants, a team whose 103 home runs were last in the major leagues this season. The only other three-homer game at what is now AT&T Park was by the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Kevin Elster in 2000. The last three-homer game by a Giant was Aubrey Huff at St. Louis in June 2011.
“We’re not known for our power,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy acknowledged.
Verlander was done in the top of the fifth after allowing the Giants five runs and six hits in his shortest start this year. He threw 98 pitches, 66 of those in his final two innings as the Giants really put some tough at-bats on him and made him work hard.
“I just didn’t execute tonight,” said Verlander, the reigning Cy Young winner who had looked so dominant in prior appearances this postseason. “It was kind of a battle from the get-go. They took advantage of that and swung the bat pretty well, especially Pablo and Scutaro.”
If there was any doubt that Verlander was shaky, the best sign came in the fourth inning. That’s when Giants’ starter Zito, a career .099 hitter, slapped an RBI single to left field off Verlander with two outs to give the Giants a 5-0 cushion.
On the mound himself, Zito allowed just one run and six hits in 5 2-3 innings. Given a 6-0 lead, he gave up an RBI single in the sixth to Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera who plopped the ball into center field — allowing Austin Jackson to score after a lead-off double.
“Just the opportunity alone was mind-blowing,” Zito said of getting the Game 1 start. “And then the boys came out swinging and played great defense.”
Lincecum, the two-time Cy Young Award winner who won twice in the 2010 Series, came out of the bullpen to relieve Zito and was perfect through 2 1-3 innings of relief in which the whacky right-hander struck out five batters.
Jhonny Peralta tried to get the Tigers back in the game with a two-run shot to center field off mop-up reliever George Kontos in the top of the ninth, but Kontos and Jeremy Affeldt were able to work out of the inning.
The Tigers have to be reeling after watching their ace pitcher Verlander get knocked around. On the other hand, the Giants have to feel like they could walk on water after Sandoval’s performance.
“I’m one that’s been around long enough to know that a lot of things happen in this game. This was a big-hyped game with Justin, probably a lot of pressure on him,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. “His fastball command was not good. He got out of sync. He just did not pitch well tonight. It’s that simple.”
Detroit doesn’t have much time to regroup with Game 2 on Thursday night. Doug Fister will take the mound for Leyland’s squad, while Madison Bumgarner tries to show why Bochy decided to give him the ball for the Giants.
(© 2012 CBS San Francisco. All rights reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)