Sports

Giants strike first on Sandoval’s three blasts

SAN FRANCISCO – A roly-poly Kung Fu Panda outslugged the Triple Crown winner. An October outcast outpitched the Cy Young ace.

With Pablo Sandoval and Barry Zito taking star turns, this World Series is off to a rollicking start.

Sandoval hit three home runs and joined Reggie Jackson, Babe Ruth and Albert Pujols as the only boppers to do it in the Series, and the San Francisco Giants jolted Justin Verlander and the Detroit Tigers 8-3 on Wednesday night in Game 1.

“Man, I still can’t believe it,” Sandoval said.

A boisterous AT&T Park crowd – a sea of black and orange outfits – roared as Sandoval connected in his first three at-bats.

Popular in the Bay Area for his outgoing personality and unusual physique, he went 4 for 4 and drove in four runs. A Giant panda for sure.

From the first pitch to last, it was basically a perfect game by the Giants. Coming off a Game 7 win over St. Louis on Monday night, they looked totally fresh.

“We played our last game only two days ago,” Sandoval said. “We’re still hot. We just came here and played our game.”

Verlander, the reigning Cy Young winner so dominant in this postseason, looked uncomfortable from the outset and constantly pawed at the mound.

As fans filed out singing along with Tony Bennett’s standard “I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” the final score raised a nagging question for manager Jim Leyland and his favored Tigers: Did too much rest after a playoff sweep of the Yankees mean too much rust?

“I just didn’t execute tonight,” Verlander said. “It was kind of a battle from the get-go. They took advantage of that and swung the bat pretty well, especially Pablo and (Marco) Scutaro. A couple of good bounces their way, bad for us.”

Game 2 is today, with Doug Fister starting for the Tigers against Madison Bumgarner.

Left off the 2010 World Series roster by the champion Giants, Zito shut out the Tigers until Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera’s RBI single in the sixth. The Giants won for the 14th straight time with Zito starting.

“Just the opportunity alone was mind-blowing. Me and my wife were dancing around when I heard,” Zito said of getting the Game 1 start. “And then the boys came out swinging and played great defense.”

Sandoval did his damage with his bat. He donated the wood he used for the first two homers to the Hall of Fame – no need for it anymore, he broke it on the backswing of his second shot.

It was certainly a moment of retribution of Sandoval. He was benched during the 2010 World Series, his production and confidence down, his weight up. In the stands on this night, fans wearing furry panda hats celebrated with him.

“You have to keep working. I’ve never lost faith to be here,” he said.

Get this: It was the first three-homer game at the stadium originally known as Pac Bell Park since the first one, when Kevin Elster did it for the Dodgers in 2000. Tagged by Sandoval for a solo shot in the first inning, Verlander could only mouth ‘Wow!’ when the Giants star launched a two-run drive in the third that set off another blast of fog horns. Sandoval reprised his power show from this year’s All-Star game, when his bases-loaded triple highlighted a five-run first inning against Verlander.

Quite a blast from a team that finished last in the majors in homers.

“We’re not known for our power,” manager Bruce Bochy noted.

And if there was any doubt that Verlander was shaky, the clearest sign came in the fourth. That’s when Zito, a career .099 hitter, sliced an RBI single with two outs off the current A.L. MVP for a 5-0 lead.



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