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WS2012 Gm1: Sandoval swats three homers vs. Tigers

SAN FRANCISCO -- Pablo Sandoval possesses Babe Ruth's build, Reggie Jackson's flair and Albert Pujols' formidable presence at the plate.

Wednesday, Sandoval shared a characteristic with all three men: their swing.

Sandoval joined Ruth, Jackson and Pujols in baseball lore by clobbering three home runs, matching a postseason record while launching the Giants to an 8-3 triumph over the Detroit Tigers in Game 1 of the World Series.

"Man, I still can't believe it," Sandoval said.

Sandoval struck his first two homers off Detroit ace Justin Verlander, who yielded five runs and six hits in four shockingly ordinary innings. Sandoval added his third against reliever Al Alburquerque to join the pantheon of sluggers to homer thrice in a Series game: Ruth, who performed the feat in 1926 and '28; Jackson, who homered on each of three swings against the Dodgers in 1977; and Pujols, who made history with St. Louis at Texas in last year's Game 3.

Sandoval's 4-for-4, four-RBI outburst also supported Barry Zito, who approached the magnificence of his Game 5 performance at St. Louis in the National League Championship Series. Zito followed up his 7 2/3 shutout innings against the Cardinals by limiting the Tigers to one run and six hits in 5 2/3 innings. The outcome extended the Giants' winning streak in Zito's starts to 14, dating back to the regular season.

More importantly, the Giants finally won a postseason series opener, placing them on course to avoid the deficits that forced them to win six consecutive elimination games -- an impressive but risky task.

"We said, 'Please, let's not start like the last two series,'" left fielder Gregor Blanco said.

The previous Game 1 winners proceeded to capture the Series 66 times, or 61.7 percent. Since 1993, all 11 home teams to triumph in Game 1 ultimately became Series champions.

"This is a great way to start," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "But that's what it is, a start."

The Giants delivered a medley of excellence for the partisan crowd at jam-packed AT&T Park. Blanco made virtually identical catches on Miguel Cabrera in the third inning and Prince Fielder in the sixth inning to deny base hits. Catcher Buster Posey displayed dexterity and presence of mind to turn Delmon Young's fourth-inning chopper in front of the plate into a double play. Tim Lincecum relieved Zito in the sixth inning and turned in another stellar performance, striking out five in 2 1/3 perfect innings.

But the spotlight in the first Fall Classic between these storied franchises shone brightest on Sandoval, who appeared only once in San Francisco's five-game Series triumph over Texas two years ago. Then, an overweight Sandoval struggled to play third base effectively and adjust at the plate. Nowadays, Sandoval's still portly, but he carries his weight better. And as this Fall Classic opened, he carried the Giants on a mostly windless evening -- which might have helped propel his drives.

The Giants hit 31 regular-season home runs at AT&T Park, by far the fewest in the Majors and the lowest total since 1992. But Sandoval made a mockery of that statistical oddity.

With two outs in the first inning, he stepped into the batter's box with confidence, having lashed a bases-loaded triple off Verlander in the July 10 All-Star Game -- thus helping the NL gain home-field advantage for the World Series. Sandoval proceeded to open the scoring by lining Verlander's 95-mph fastball into the right-center-field stands. It was the first roundtripper that Verlander surrendered on an 0-2 count this year and only the fourth such clout in his career.

"I tried to elevate there and didn't get it high enough and obviously didn't quite know he was that locked in at that point," Verlander said. "He was seeing the ball pretty well today."

The Giants struck again with two outs in the third. They received a huge break when Angel Pagan's simple ground ball toward third base struck the bag and caromed into short left field for a double. Given that preposterous reprieve, the Giants sustained the rally with Marco Scutaro's RBI single on a 3-2 pitch, which extended his postseason hitting streak to 11 games. Up came Sandoval, who lofted an outside 2-0 pitch into the left-field seats.

"Wherever the ball is, I'm just going to swing," Sandoval said.

Continuing a streak that he started, Zito took an inside-out swing and poked a fourth-inning RBI single to left field. It marked the fourth game in a row in which a Giants pitcher drove in a run.

Though the Tigers trailed, 5-0, a cheer rose from the audience when pinch-hitter Danny Worth was announced for Verlander in the fifth inning, reflecting the respect that the reigning AL Most Valuable Player Award and AL Cy Young Award winner commanded.

Meanwhile, Sandoval's show continued as he belted an Alburquerque pitch over the center-field barrier with one out in the fifth. That made Sandoval the second player to homer here three times; Los Angeles' Kevin Elster did so in the park's inaugural game on April 11, 2000.

Sandoval added a seventh-inning single, making him only the second player to accumulate as many as 13 total bases in a Series game. Pujols had 14 in his three-homer outburst. This prompted a representative from the Hall of Fame to take Sandoval's bat for an exhibit in Cooperstown, N.Y. Before breaking that bat hitting his second homer of the game, Sandoval had used it all postseason, helping him amass his six postseason home runs and his current streak of six games in a row with at least one RBI.

"There's more bats in there to swing," he said. "It's not the bat. It's you."

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