SAN FRANCISCO — What Justin Verlander did — or, more accurately, failed to do — in Wednesday's World Series opener was surprising, stripping his Tigers of their built-in advantage and confidence by lasting only four innings in a disappointing performance.
What Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval did in the 8-3 win was downright stunning, hitting a Series record-tying three home runs, including two off Verlander, joining Babe Ruth (who did it twice), Reggie Jackson and Albert Pujols.
Sandoval, the portly slugger known as the Panda (think Kung Fu Panda movie), hit only 12 homers during the regular season, and now has six in the postseason. Wednesday, the 26-year-old Venezuelan went deep in the first, third and fifth innings.
He got help Wednesday, as renaissance man Barry Zito continued his resurgence with 5 2/3 solid innings (and singled in a run), leftfielder Gregor Blanco made a pair of diving catches and NL Championship Series MVP Marco Scutaro singled a run, extending his postseason hitting streak to 11 games.
But Verlander, unexpectedly, contributed to the Giants' success before 47,855 on a picture-perfect night at AT&T Park as the Giants seemed to carry over the momentum from their stirring comeback from a three games to one deficit in the NLCS.
After a 17-8, 2.64 regular season that has him David Price's main competition for the AL Cy Young Award, Verlander had been dazzling in the first two rounds of the playoffs. going 3-0, 0.74 in beating the A's twice (including a complete game shutout in decisive Game 5) and the Yankees once, giving up only two runs and 10 hits.
Wednesday, he allowed five runs and six hits in a span of 17 batters, including the two home runs. The only other player this season to take deep twice in a game? Rays outfielder Desmond Jennings, on June 29 at the Trop.
The Giants took the lead in the first, igniting an already excited AT&T Park crowd, when Sandoval drove a two-out, 0-and-2 Verlander pitch over the left-centerfield wall. It was only the fifth homer Verlander allowed on an 0-and-2 pitch in his career.
They expanded the margin to 4-0 with another two-out rally in the third, Angel Pagan reaching on a double when his ground ball bounced off third base, NLCS MVP Marco Scutaro singling him in and then Sandoval hitting his second homer, slicing a 2-and-0 pitch over the leftfield wall.
They added a run, and an insult, in the fourth when Zito slapped a two-out single off Verlander.
Sandoval made it 6-0 in the fifth with his third homer, a one-out shot to center off reliever Al Alburquerque.
Things just seemed to be going the Giants' way. In the top of the third, Blanco made a sliding catch to rob Miguel Cabrera. In the bottom, Angel Pagan's routine grounder bounced off the corner of third base for a double. In the fourth, they got an easy double play when ex-Ray Delmon Young didn't run.
Zito, so bad during much of his seven-year, $126 million contract signed in 2007, came up with a second straight huge outing, having beaten the Cardinals in pivotal Game 5 of the NLCS.
With MVP, Cy Young and Rookie of the Year Awards on his mantle and a 124-65 regular-season record, all that has been missing from his resume was World Series success.
He was 0-2, 5.73 in his Game 1 and 5 starts in his 2006 rookie season, and said he expected to have learned from that experience, and the six years he waited to get back.
"It was my rookie year, though, and everything was kind of a whirlwind, and I don't think I really appreciated the magnitude of how hard it is to get there," he said.
"You know, I think I had a rude awakening in the years after that, and I think it allows me to appreciate it all the more that I'm here now and getting the opportunity to start Game 1 again. Just being able to take it in a little bit more, having some experience under my belt and having been in situations like this allows me not to be so wide-eyed and be a little calmer and take things in."
MAKE ROOM, LEGENDS
The Giants' Pablo Sandoval joins three legendary sluggers and takes his place in baseball lore with three home runs in a World Series game.