Pablo Sandoval, known as “Kung Fu Panda” because of his girth, became the fourth player in Major League Baseball history to hit three home runs in a World Series game as the host San Francisco Giants won the opener 8-3 against the Detroit Tigers.
Game 2 of the best-of-seven series is set for tonight at AT&T Park in San Francisco. The Giants are seeking their second title in three years, having won in 2010.
Sandoval, 26, joined Babe Ruth and Reggie Jackson of the New York Yankees and Albert Pujols of the St. Louis Cardinals as the only players to pull off the three-homer feat in baseball’s championship round.
“He hit one down, he hit a couple up, he just had one of those nights where anything we threw, he hit,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said in a news conference. “The guy had one of those unbelievable World Series nights that they’ll be talking about for years.”
The odds of Las Vegas bookmakers before last night’s game suggested a 62 percent chance that Detroit will win the World Series. Detroit was listed as the -170 money line favorite, meaning a bettor would have to wager $170 to win $100, while the Giants were +150.
The Tigers ranked fifth among the 30 MLB clubs with a season-opening payroll of $132 million, while the Giants were eighth at $118 million, according to USA Today’s annual survey. The team with the higher payroll has won the past six World Series titles.
Sandoval, who had a single in his fourth plate appearance, hit his three home runs an estimated total of 1,193 feet (364 meters). The first two homers came off Justin Verlander, who had allowed only two runs overall in winning three playoff games en route to the World Series.
Ruth hit three homers in a World Series game twice -- in 1926 and 1928 -- and Jackson did it in 1977. Pujols, who now plays for the Los Angeles Angels, did it last year.
“We’re having fun right now,” Sandoval said in a news conference. “I’m enjoying this World Series, I’m enjoying all my moments. You never know when it’s going to happen again.”
The Giants, last in the majors this season with 103 home runs, opened the scoring when Sandoval hit a solo homer an estimated 411 feet to right-center field in the first inning off Verlander.
San Francisco added three runs off Verlander in the third. With two outs, Angel Pagan’s grounder caromed off the third-base bag for a double and he scored on a single by Marco Scutaro. Sandoval followed with a two-run homer just over the left-field wall estimated at 360 feet.
Barry Zito, who got the win for the Giants by allowing one run in 5 2/3 innings, drove in the fifth run with a single in the fourth inning. Sandoval then hit his third home run, a shot estimated at 422 feet to center field, in the fifth inning.
Zito was the one who gave Sandoval his nickname, saying his 5-foot-11, 240-pound teammate reminded him of the title character in the 2008 animated movie starring Jack Black.
“When he hit his third, man, we were just going nuts in there,” Zito said in a news conference. “We didn’t know at that point if it had ever been done.”
Scutaro and Buster Posey added run-scoring singles as the Giants scored two more runs in the seventh inning.
Detroit scored in the sixth inning on a run-scoring single by Miguel Cabrera and Jhonny Peralta added a two-run homer in the ninth inning.
Verlander, 29, who won the Cy Young Award as the American League’s best pitcher last year and won all three of his starts as the Tigers eliminated the Oakland Athletics and Yankees in the playoffs, allowed five runs on six hits in four innings.
The Giants countered with two Cy Young winners -- Zito, 34, who won the award in 2002 for the Oakland Athletics, and Tim Lincecum, 28, who won back-to-back Cy Young Awards for the Giants in 2008-09. Lincecum relieved Zito in the sixth inning and retired all seven batters he faced, striking out five.
After seven seasons with Oakland, Zito signed a seven-year, $126 million free-agent deal with the Giants in 2006 that was the largest contract in MLB history for a pitcher at the time.
He has gone 58-69 with the Giants and struggled so much in 2010 that he was left off the postseason roster as San Francisco won the World Series. He rebounded to go 15-8 this season, and then got the victory by pitching 7 2/3 scoreless innings as the Giants won the fifth game of the NL Championship Series against the Cardinals.
Sandoval also was benched for most for the 2010 World Series and then told by the Giants to lose some weight. He dropped more than 30 pounds as part of what the team playfully dubbed “Operation Panda.”
“You know, we got ups and downs in our career,” Sandoval said. “We were sitting down on the bench in 2010.”
The Tigers ousted the Yankees in four straight games in the American League Championship Series. The Giants reached the World Series by rallying from a 3-1 deficit to defeat the Cardinals in seven games in the National League.
This is the fourth World Series meeting between a team coming off a sweep and a club that was pushed to a decisive seventh game. In the previous three, the team that played a seven-game league championship series won the World Series, including the Cardinals’ defeat of the Tigers in 2006.
Though the Giants are in their 19th World Series and the Tigers are making their 11th appearance, last night’s game was the first time they’ve met in the title round that began in 1903.