- Last Updated: 3:49 AM, October 25, 2012
- Posted: 1:57 AM, October 25, 2012
SAN FRANCISCO — Babe Ruth, Reggie Jackson, Albert Pujols, ...
... Pablo Sandoval?
It’s like the episode of “Seinfeld” when George gets hired by the Yankees, prompting Jerry to muse, “Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle ... Costanza?”
A shocker of a World Series Game 1 reached whopper status last night when Pablo Sandoval, nicknamed “Kung Fu Panda” for his roly-poly physique, slammed his third homer of the contest, cementing an unlikely place in baseball history as Sandoval, Barry Zito and the Giants pounded Justin Verlander and silenced the Tigers, 8-3, at AT&T Park, to take a 1-0 lead in games.
So we know this after just nine innings in the 2012 Fall Classic: This isn’t going to play out as many of us anticipated.
“Man, I still can’t believe it,” Sandoval said. “When you’re a little kid, you dream of being in the World Series, but I wasn’t thinking of being in this situation, three homers in one game.”
“The guy had one of those unbelievable World Series nights that they’ll be talking about for years,” Detroit manager Jim Leyland said. “So I tip my hat to him.”
Two years ago, the Rangers strode out here to Northern California as the heavy World Series favorites, throwing their ace who had just made the Yankees’ lives miserable in the American League Championship Series. And the Giants battered Texas’ Cliff Lee, 11-7, setting in motion a stunning, five-game victory and the franchise’s first title since leaving New York after 1957.
Last night, then, felt like a repeat, with Verlander playing the role of Lee. With Tim Lincecum, who started Game 1 two years ago, relieving Barry Zito, who continued his magical October by limiting the Tigers to a run in 5 2/3 innings.
Sandoval? He didn’t play in the 2010 Series opener, having fallen into disfavor thanks to a mediocre regular season. He played only in Game 3, the one contest that the Rangers won. To the Kung Fu Panda’s credit, he returned last year in improved condition — not that anyone was going to confuse him for Jack LaLanne — and has been an integral component of the Giants’ lineup both this and last season.
And now, he belongs to one of the coolest fraternities in baseball history.
“Well, I mean, to hit three home runs ... that’s always a surprise,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. “But the guy can hit. He’s got a great ability to get the good part of the bat on the ball and threw out some great at-bats. He’s swinging it very well and he’s been seeing the ball very well, and that was quite a performance by him.”
In the first inning, Sandoval lifted an 0-2 Verlander fastball over the Visa sign to the right of center field. It didn’t seem like a big deal; just a solo shot, it gave the home team a quick, 1-0 lead. No way that would suffice for the unimposing Zito against this Tigers club.
In the third, the Giants mounted a two-out rally when Angel Pagan’s slow dribbler hit the third-base bag and skipped into no-man’s land; the former Met hustled out a double. Marco Scutaro singled to center field, bringing home Pagan, and then Sandoval went the other way, driving a two-run blast into the left-field seats for a commanding 4-0 lead.
With Verlander out in the fifth, relieved by Mike Francesa’s favorite, Al Alburquerque, Sandoval made it a hat trick by ripping one just to the right of straightaway center, increasing the lead to 5-0.
That Sandoval let down the crowd by ripping a seventh-inning single off Tigers fallen closer Jose Valverde let you know what sort of night this became for the Giants. It became less of a World Series game and more of a festival. A celebration of the team that has repeatedly shocked the baseball world.
Logic says that the Tigers bounce back in tonight’s Game 2, with another favorable pitching matchup (Doug Fister vs. Madison Bumgarner). But what good is logic at times like this?
“You have to enjoy this moment,” Sandoval said. “... It’s not every day.”
Move over, Babe, Reggie and Albert. Make plenty of room for the new guy. He’s an unlikely member, but he earned his membership all the same. Let’s see you guys try hitting three out of this pitcher-friendly ballpark.Follow @NYPostsports