There have been 625 games in the illustrious history of the World Series and just 4 men have ever hit 3 home runs in a game. The list of players to accomplish the feat is predictably littered with all-time great Hall of Fame type talent: Babe Ruth, perhaps the greatest player to ever don a pair of cleats, Reggie Jackson, otherwise known as Mr. October, and Albert Pujols, a player whose enshrinement into Cooperstown will occur precisely 5 years following his retirement. Well after last nights power display, now you can add one more name to that prestigious list: Pablo Sandoval, the Kung Fu Panda.
Sandoval’s charmed night began with a bang. He stepped into the box in the first inning with none on and 2 outs, facing the strikeout monster known as Justin Verlander. Now, if you were to put together a list of all the pitchers in baseball who would be prominently involved in a 3 homer game, Verlander would probably one of the absolute last people you would think of. In fact, if you put together the same list and had to pick a team who would have a player hit 3 homers in a game, the last team you would pick is the Giants. No team in baseball left the yard less this season than San Francisco did, hitting just a measly 103 homers, 13 behind the 29th ranked Dodgers. Hell, Sandoval himself hit just 12 homers in the regular season in nearly 400 at-bats. So to say last night’s events were unlikely would be an understatement.
But nonetheless, as the Kung Fu Panda rounded the bases after driving a letter-high, 95 mph Verlander offering into the crazies in centerfield, it should have been clear that he is locked in. Sandoval had been crushed the ball this postseason, hitting .320 with 3 homers, 4 doubles, and 9 RBI in the first two rounds. And after watching him turn around a pitch that results in an out 95% of the time, we should have had a feeling that he was going to do something special. Even his teammates thought this was the finest record in his album collection. After the game Aubrey Huff was quoted as saying”I don’t know how many guys hit that pitch and hit it out. I think you have to go back to Barry Bonds in his hey-day to find somebody who can take a pitch up and in like that and not just hit it, but hit it out to dead center. I was astounded. It was pretty amazing.”
Not to be outdone, Sandoval’s 2nd blast was also a sight to behold. He worked a 2-0 count on Verlander before Tigers’ pitching coach, Jeff Jones decided to come pay his ace a visit. Verlander literally asked him “What are you doing out here?” and the mound visit only worsened the 2011 MVP’s night. On the very next pitch he offered, Sandoval crushed the ball to the opposite field, and all the sudden if was 4-0 Giants. Sandoval was able to turn around a fastball that missed off the plate just a little bit on the outside, and deposit into the seats, giving San Francisco a lead it wouldn’t relinquish.
Not only had the Giants gotten a commanding lead on Mr. Unhittable, Justin Verlander, they were able to knock him out of the game before the 5th inning, something no team in baseball had done all season. In fact, the last time Verlander had been knocked out of a game early by an offense (and not the weather, as was the case in a 2011 playoff start against the Yankees) was all the way back in June of 2010, when the New York Mets tagged him for 5 runs in 2 innings. The Giants and Pablo Sandoval were able to do it in the World Series! Just remarkable.
With Verlander out of the game and a porous Tigers bullpen in, Pablo Sandoval again came up to the plate, this time sensing history. He turned around a hanging Al Albuquerque slider, mashing it to centerfield for his most majestic homer, a 420 foot moonshot. With his 5th inning blast, Sandoval became the first baseball player in history to homer in his first 3 at-bats, and secured his place in Cooperstown. The bat Kung Fu Panda used to hit his first two homers (it broke just before he hit the 3rd) was packaged up and sent to the Hall of Fame, and will take its rightful place next to the one used by Albert Pujols just a year ago. Sandoval came to the plate again in the 7th, but was unable to pop of another long ball, settling instead for a single and a perfect 4-4 night.
The Giants have now played nearly flawless baseball for 5 straight games and are on a roll. Doug Fister will take the mound against Madison Bumgarner in Game 2, as the Tigers will be looking to get a win to bounceback in the series. For all of Sandoval’s heroics, Detroit still only trails one game to none in the World Series, and if they can take Game 2, then things are still set up nicely for them to take the crown. Fister will have to come up with another big playoff performance however, because the top of the San Francisco batting order is absolutely killing people right now.
Sandoval and Scutaro have combined to go 39-106 in the playoffs, good for a .368 batting average, to go along with 19 runs scored, 20 RBI, and 14 extra base hits. If the Tigers can’t get these two under control, San Francisco is going to be nearly impossible to beat. It may not even matter what Detroit’s pitching staff does however, because when Pablo Sandoval is swinging the lumber like he was last night, the Giants are unbeatable.