By John Perrotto, The Spots XChange
SAN FRANCISCO -- Babe Ruth, Reggie Jackson, Albert Pujols ... and the Kung Fu Panda.
Pablo Sandoval hit three home runs, tying a World Series record held by Ruth, Jackson and Pujols to lead the San Francisco Giants to an 8-3 victory over the Detroit Tigers in Game 1 of the best-of-seven series Wednesday night at AT&T Park.
Sandoval homered in each of his first three at-bats, including two off Tigers ace Justin Verlander. He connected for a third homer off reliever Al Alburquerque to tie the record held by the three legendary sluggers.
Ruth set the record in 1926 and tied it in 1928. Jackson Jackson had his hat trick in 1977, and Pujols went deep three times last year in Game 3 for St. Louis against Texas.
Sandoval lined an 0-2 pitch over the center-field fence for a solo homer in the first inning to open the scoring. He lined a two-run shot to left to cap a three-run third, then had another solo homer in the fifth inning.
Sandoval had a chance to break the record in the eighth inning but settled for a single to center field off deposed Detroit closer Jose Valverde, who was pitching for the first time since giving up a pair of two-run home runs in the first game of the American League Championship Series 12 days earlier.
Sandoval finished 4-for-4. Angel Pagan, Marco Scutaro and Buster Posey all added two hits for the Giants, who had 11 in total.
The portly Sandoval was a forgotten man when the Giants won the World Series two years ago. He started just once in the Giants' five-game victory over Texas due to being extremely overweight and out of shape.
This year has been a whole different story as Sandoval has hit six home runs in this postseason after going deep just 12 times in 443 plate appearances in the regular season.
The losing Verlander lasted just four innings and gave up five runs and six hits in a 98-pitch outing. He walked one and struck out four.
Verlander's start was reminiscent of his rookie season when he pitched Game 1 of the 2006 World Series. Verlander was tagged for seven runs in five innings as the Tigers lost 7-1 to The St. Louis Cardinals. The Tigers lost that series in five games.
Winning pitcher Barry Zito carried a shutout into the sixth inning before tiring. He went 5 2/3 innings, allowing one run and six hits with one walk and three strikeouts while throwing 81 pitches.
Zito was buried even deeper than Sandoval two years ago as he was not even on the Giants' active roster for any of their three postseason series. However this year, Zito went 15-8 in the regular season, the first time he posted a winning record in six years since signing a seven-year, $126 million contract as a free agent.
After Sandoval gave the Giants a 1-0 lead with his first home run, Pagan led off the third with a two-out double that caromed off third-base and into short left field. Pagan scored on Scuatro's line single up the middle and Sandoval followed with his second home run.
The Giants made it 5-0 in the fourth when Brandon Belt drew a leadoff walk and scored on a two-out single by Zito, a career .097 hitter.
Sandoval hit his third home run in the fifth.
The Tigers scored their first run in the sixth when Austin Jackson doubled and scored on a single by Miguel Cabrera, the American League Triple Crown winner.
The Giants, though, answered with two runs off the beleaguered Valverde in the seventh. Pagan doubled and scored on a single by Scutaro, who was singled home by Buster Posey.
Detroit added two more runs in the top of the ninth when Jhonny Peralta slammed a two-run homer to round out the game's scoring.
Game 2 is at 8:07 p.m. ET on Thursday night with Doug Fister pitching for Detroit against San Francisco left-hander Madison Bumgarner.