World Series Game 1: Giants And Tigers And Panda Bears... Oh My!
The beauty of October baseball lies in the fact that legends are made and nearly any athlete can rise to the occasion. Game 1 between the Giants and Tigers was no exception.
In a game riddled with unforeseen outcomes, it’s hard to know where to begin.
The headlines are fantastical. Barry Zito outpitched Justin Verlander. Pablo Sandoval hit three home runs. Giants’ starting pitching extended its RBI streak to four games. A former Cy Young winner relieved a fellow Cy Young winner.
But the night incontestably belongs to Giant third baseman Pablo “Panda” Sandoval. The Panda has been hot lately, so it isn’t a surprise that he performed well, but to merely say that would be the understatement of all understatements.
Two years ago, Sandoval spent most of the 2010 World Series on the bench. He was struggling with plate discipline on the field (hitting) and off the field (his diet).Two years later, and no discernible number of pounds lighter, the Panda is cranking long shots (emphasis on the multiplicity) off Major League’s finest.
The Tigers were heavily favored, due primarily to the fact that they were sending out the unhittable reigning AL MVP, Cy Young winner and AL All-Star starter in Verlander. He entered the game with a 0.74 ERA and 25 strikeouts in the first two rounds of the postseason. He would leave just four innings later with the knowledge the Giants’ third baseman has his number.
After hitting a bases-clearing triple off Verlander in the All Star game earlier this year, Sandoval homered off the Tigers’ ace not only once, but twice. The Panda hit a solo shot in the first inning and a two-run homer in the third.
And as an exclamation point on an already incredible night, he added yet another off reliever Al Alburquerque, becoming only the fourth player in World Series history to hit three home runs in a single game. The feat puts him in the same company as Babe Ruth, Reggie Jackson and Albert Pujols (who hit his three against the Rangers last year).
And when things couldn’t seem to get any more unorthodox, the Giants employed a Cy Young tag team strategy. Tim Lincecum emerged from the bullpen to underscore his reputation as an untouchable reliever. He was perfect through 2 1/3 innings with 5 strikeouts, making his ERA in relief this postseason a microscopic 0.84.
The Giants didn’t just execute the bizarre and extreme and implausible; they did everything else right.
Gregor Blanco, who replaced Melky Cabrera in left field, made two spectacular diving basket catches to rob the Tigers of a pair of base hits. Buster Posey contributed with an unassisted out and throw to second in a double play that killed an early Detroit rally.
Giants pitching completely silenced a powerful offense until the ninth inning when reliever George Kontos surrendered a two-run home run to Jhonny Peralta.
The 1-2-3 hitters couldn’t be tamed: Angel Pagan and NLCS MVP Marco Scutaro had two hits apiece, which shouldn’t go overlooked regardless of a historic night from third-slot Sandoval. Posey also had two hits on the night.
In essence, it was a Giant night for a few unlikely heroes and for a team that suddenly knows how to do it all. The 8-3 victory was only the second non-elimination win for the Giants this postseason and their first home Game 1 win (the team lost at home to the Reds and Cardinals in the NLDS and NLCS, respectively).
The odds weren’t in the Giants’ favor in the NLDS, when they became the first team to overcome an 0-2 deficit, not to mention having to win three games on the road. They weren’t in the Giants’ favor in the NLCS either, when the team yet again survived a 3-1 deficit.
This time, the chances for the Giants look pretty good. Teams that have won Game 1 of the World Series have won eight of the last nine World Series.
The Tigers had the luxury of rest after sweeping the Yankees while the Giants settled for a single day break after battling through seven games. The Giants had momentum going into the World Series and they’ll certainly have it going into Game 2 after a stellar debut.
The Tigers have to pounce and pounce soon if they hope to derail a team that has become both David and Goliath.
Reach Staff Writer Alexa Girkout here. Follow her here.