RENEE MONTAGNE, BYLINE: Who says the San Francisco Giants can't hit home runs? They had the fewest in the major leagues this season. But last night, the Giants opened the World Series with three homers, all by the same player, in an eight-to-three drubbing of the Detroit Tigers. NPR's Tom Goldman was at the game and reports it was a redemptive night for San Francisco's hitting and pitching stars.
TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Listen closely to this moment in the bottom of the seventh inning last night.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)
GOLDMAN: That cheer, which receded kind of quickly, was for a single by San Francisco third baseman Pablo Sandoval. Granted, a single doesn't normally bring down the house, especially when the team at bat is ahead seven-to-one, as the Giants were at that moment. But still, you sensed a bit of disappointment, as in - dang, why couldn't he have hit his fourth?
Yes, 26-year-old Pablo Sandoval hit three dingers last night, as heard on Fox TV. It was only the fifth time that's happened in a World Series game, and it earned him membership in an exclusive club - Babe Ruth, Reggie Jackson, Albert Pujols, Kung Fu Panda. That's the 5'11, 240 pound Sandoval's nickname.
Three swings and the roly-poly fan favorite is now part of Baseball's Hall-Of-Fame, or at least his bat is - a guy from Cooperstown took it after the game. He's even more of a hero in his native Venezuela, where President Hugo Chavez tweeted during the game, there goes the third. Pablo makes history.
PABLO SANDOVAL: Man, I still can't believe it, man. You know, it means a lot because 2010 was probably the worst Series. You know, I didn't get a chance to play too much.
GOLDMAN: In fact, Sandoval was benched during the 2010 series, which San Francisco won. But there he was on the dais last night, where they bring up the players of the game. And there was there Giants' winning pitcher Barry Zito, who also had a forgettable 2010. He was left off the Giants' postseason roster.
It was a low point for the former Cy Young Award winner, who signed a $126 million free agent contract with San Francisco in 2006 and then failed to deliver. Last night, he pitched in his first World Series game, gave up only one run in nearly six innings.
BARRY ZITO: Just the opportunity was just magical. To be able to go up against Verlander and give our team, you know, a chance to go up one-nothing. And the fact that we won, you know, it's just a pleasure to be part of it all.
GOLDMAN: Justin Verlander was the other major storyline last night. He had been dominant in the postseason, winning all three of his starts. And when you do that on top of being the reigning American League Most Valuable Player and Cy Young Award winner, well, that pretty much earned Verlander best pitcher on the planet honors.
But last night, Verlander lasted only four innings, gave up six hits, five runs, including two of Sandoval's homers. Detroit manager Jim Leyland said a nearly week long layoff for the Tigers didn't help Verlander.
JIM LEYLAND: He was definitely rusty, there's no question about it. And he got out of sync, so, you know there're no excuses. He just didn't have a good game and the Giant hitters did.
GOLDMAN: San Francisco rolled into the World Series after a dramatic comeback in the previous round, winning three straight elimination games against St. Louis. And the Giants kept rolling last night.
Still, Leyland said he doesn't believe in momentum in baseball. I think momentum is your next day's pitcher, he said. For the Tigers, that means right hander Doug Fister later today. If Fister listens to his manager, it's simply game two, stay focused, stay present. No problem. But Fister might want to focus just a bit more, when a certain Kung Fu Panda steps up to the plate.
Tom Goldman, NPR News, San Francisco.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
MONTAGNE: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.