SAN FRANCISCO — The Babe, Mr. October, King Albert and now the Kung Fu Panda.
Game 1 of the World Series. The Giants third baseman hit a solo home run off Tigers ace Justin Verlander on an 0-2 count in the first inning, a two-run home run off Verlander in the third inning and another solo shot off reliever Al Alburquerque in the sixth to make baseball history and give the Giants a 6-0 lead. Sandoval had a shot to make the record his own with an at-bat against Jose Valverde in the seventh, but settled for a single up the middle and an incredible 4 for 4 night.
"Man, I still can't believe it," he said after the game.
"He's been locked in for a while," Giants manager Bruce Bochy added. "It's not easy to hit them where he hit them. A night I know he'll never forget."
Sandoval and Bochy were right to be amazed because the list the third baseman landed on with his triple display of power is a short and prestigious one: Albert Pujols achieved the same feat in Game 3 of the 2011 World Series while Reggie Jackson earned the title of Mr. October by doing it in Game 6 of the 1977 World Series. Babe Ruth is the only player to do it twice, managing a three home run game in both the 1926 and 1928 World Series.
Sandoval, though a fan favorite for his short and stout frame and above-average bat, isn't exactly bound for the Hall of Fame. But his efforts against Verlander were definitely Cooperstown caliber. He's only the fifth player to hit two home runs in a game off the 2011 Cy Young winner and the sixth to hit a home run after falling behind 0-2 in the count.
"It was a tremendous game for him, it was awesome," said Tigers first baseman Prince Fielder. "Obviously you don't want to lose the game but to see that kind of performance in the World Series is still unbelievable to watch. Hopefully that's the end of it."
Sandoval's first home run flew into the center field stands and was estimated at 421 feet. After he hit his second home run — an opposite field blast that just sailed over the left field wall — Verlander looked on and simply mouthed "wow". Sandoval's bat shattered on the backswing during the second home run, ending the lifespan of the wood that had been responsible for his five postseason home runs to that point. But his new twig proved just as productive as his third home run was hit to center field again.
Also, you can rest easy lest you think that Sandoval's shattered bat ended up in the Giants game-used equipment store like Hunter Pence's bat from Game 7 of the NLCS did.
"The guy from Cooperstown took it," Sandoval said, eliciting a lot of laughter.
Sandoval's big night came two years after he played sparingly in the Giants' run to the 2010 World Series title. He received only three at-bats as a DH against the Texas Rangers in that series, striking out once and failing to reach base. This postseason, he's hitting .370 (20 for 54) with six homers and 13 RBI.
"It means a lot," Sandoval said. "In 2010 I was part of the World Series (but) I didn't get a chance to play too much. I'm enjoying this World Series. I'm enjoying my moments."