Panda pride: Sandoval homers in first three ABs
Giants third baseman becomes fourth to belt trio of dingers in World Series game
SAN FRANCISCO -- Under normal circumstances, Pablo Sandoval is hysterical.
On this special occasion, Game 1 of the World Series on Wednesday night, the Giants' good-natured third baseman turned historical.
The team's living, breathing embodiment of hanging loose and having a good time, Sandoval put on his game face and vaulted into the rarest of air.
Hardly a factor with the 2010 champion Giants, reduced to a backup role, the big man affectionately known as "Panda" joined generational legends Babe Ruth, Reggie Jackson and Albert Pujols with three home runs in a single Fall Classic game.
"Man, I still can't believe it," Sandoval said in the afterglow of an 8-3 Giants decision at the expense of the Tigers and their ace, Justin Verlander. "When you're a little kid, you dream of being in the World Series.
"[In] 2010, I was part of the World Series. I didn't get a chance to play too much. I'm enjoying this World Series. I'm enjoying all my moments. You never know when it's going to happen again.
"It means a lot for my family, my friends, my teammates. They pull together to be here. [If not] for all these guys, we wouldn't be here. It's part of your life you have to enjoy."
Sandoval launched a solo homer against Verlander in the first inning to hand Barry Zito a lead, reaching the seats just to the right of dead-center field. Few hitters are capable of turning on that Verlander delivery -- a high, riding 95-mph fastball on an 0-2 count -- and putting it where Sandoval did with his quick, powerful hands.
Almost equal to Albert
Following Angel Pagan's double off the third-base bag and Marco Scutaro's single in the third, Sandoval went the other way with another Verlander heater, to left field. This two-run blast on a 2-0 count gave the Giants a 4-0 lead.
"He's one of the best pitchers in the big leagues," Sandoval said. "In this situation, you're going to face the best."
Facing reliever Al Alburquerque with one out in the fifth, Sandoval made it three blasts in succession when he lifted a slider over the wall in center to the delight of a roaring AT&T Park crowd. This had Zito and the Giants in front 6-0.
"I think the last one" felt the best, Sandoval said. "I said, `Man, I can't believe I hit three home runs. I was just trying to keep my approach and get a good pitch to hit up there. Hitting three home runs is too much for me. I didn't think about it.
"It's one of those things you're never going to forget. But you've got to keep playing the game, focusing."
|Pablo Sandoval||10/24/2012||Det.||8-3 W||3|
|Jeff Kent||10/24/2002||Ana.||16-4 W||2|
|Benny Kauff||10/11/1917||Chi.||5-0 W||2|
In his fourth at-bat, against Jose Valverde, Sandoval lined a single to left-center for 13 total bases, one shy of Pujols' Series record set last October in Game 3 against the Rangers in Texas.
"We were going for four," Giants reliever Jeremy Affeldt said through a wide smile. "I was hoping for a water shot there. He got a lousy single there and killed everything for us."
Ruth, the Sultan of Swat, homered three times on Oct. 6, 1926, and repeated the act on Oct. 9, 1928, both times against St. Louis.
Jackson's three-homer extravaganza, turning him into the undisputed "Mr. October," came in decisive Game 6 of the 1977 World Series against the Dodgers on Oct. 18.
It was the ninth time in postseason history a player has gone deep three times in a single game.
Sandoval, hampered by assorted ailments, had only 12 homers in the regular season but came into this World Series on a roll. He had two homers and six RBIs in the seven-game National League Championship Series, taken by the Giants at the Cardinals' expense, and a homer and three RBIs in the NL Division Series against the Reds.
"The last three or four games," Giants batting coach Hensley Meulens said, "he's been pretty locked in."
Sandoval is hitting .370 in the postseason, with six homers and 13 RBIs in 54 at-bats. The Giants' staff has allowed a total of eight homers.
"If you've followed his career, he's a very aggressive hitter," Meulens said. "He really doesn't have a zone. When he's locked in, he hits anything."
Sandoval's style calls to mind the great Vladimir Guerrero. If he can reach it, he figures he can hit it hard somewhere.
"It's hard to have a game plan against him," Giants cleanup man Buster Posey said. "He can hit a ball over his head or in the dirt."
Panda among October elite
|Pablo Sandoval||10/24/2012||S.F.||Det||8-3 W||3|
|Chase Utley||10/28/2009||Phi.||NYY||6-1 W||2|
|Troy Glaus||10/19/2002||Ana.||S.F.||4-3 L||2|
|Greg Vaughn||10/17/1998||S.D.||NYY||9-6 L||2|
|Andruw Jones||10/20/1996||Atl.||NYY||12-1 W||2|
|Willie Aikens||10/14/1980||K.C.||Phi.||7-6 L||2|
|Davey Lopes||10/10/1978||L.A.||NYY||11-5 W||2|
|Gene Tenace||10/14/1972||Oak.||Cin.||3-2 W||2|
|Ted Kluszewski||10/1/1959||Chi.||LAD||11-0 W||2|
|Joe Collins||9/28/1955||NYY||Bro.||6-5 W||2|
This was the first three-homer game of his career. That it came against Triple Crown winner and fellow Venezuelan Miguel Cabrera, the Tigers' American League MVP candidate, might not have been a coincidence according to Giants catcher Hector Sanchez.
"Everyone knows Cabrera is an unbelievable player," said Sanchez, who shares Venezuela roots with the two third basemen. "Pablo is, too. He's a great player and a good person, too. He has helped me in a lot of ways, on and off the field.
"He's such a good guy, so much fun to be around. San Francisco is a hard place to hit home runs, and he hit three in a World Series game. You can see what a strong guy he is. Unbelievable."
Even the opposition had to concede it was something to behold.
"You don't want to lose the game," Tigers slugging first baseman Prince Fielder said. "But to see that kind of performance in the World Series is unbelievable."
Only one other time has a player gone deep three times in a game in the Giants' park that turned Candlestick Park into a memory. Barry Bonds? No. It was Dodgers shortstop Kevin Elster, in the first game ever played in the yard a playful Panda owned and roamed on Wednesday night.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.