Oh, so this is why they actually play the baseball games.
Game 1 of the 2012 World Series was supposed to be a mismatch, and the final score suggested that it was. Except it wasn't supposed to be this mismatch: The San Francisco Giants, with Barry Zito pitching 5⅔ strong innings and Pablo Sandoval hitting three home runs, beat the Detroit Tigers and Justin Verlander, 8-3.
Verlander, of course, is arguably the best pitcher in the major leagues. In his three postseason starts this month, he'd given up exactly two runs. Meanwhile, Zito went 15-8 during the regular season, but the sophisticated metrics suggested that he'd actually pitched little better than a Triple-A pitcher. And even his 7⅔ shutout innings against the Cardinals in Game 5 of the National League Series was ... well, it was just hard to imagine that Zito would get away with, against these Tigers, so many line drives and 85-mile-an-hour fastballs down the middle.
But Zito did get away with it, for a while anyway, taking a shutout into the sixth inning.
Of course, Zito wasn't the biggest story in Game 1. Nor was Justin Verlander, removed from the contest after throwing 98 pitches in four innings. No, that honor goes to Pablo Sandoval, who became only the fourth player in World Series history to hit three home runs in one game, joining Albert Pujols, Reggie Jackson and Babe Ruth (who did it twice).
With two outs in the bottom of the first, Sandoval drove a high fastball over AT&T Park's center-field wall; it was the first time all year that Verlander gave up a home run on an 0-and-2 pitch. In the third, again with two outs, Sandoval got ahead in the count 2-and-0 before driving a fastball the other way, and over the left-field fence. And in the fifth inning, now with Al Alburquerque on the mound, Sandoval homered yet again; and again, over the center-field fence.
Sandoval hit only a dozen home runs during the regular season, and only seven of those came at home. He's now got six homers in the postseason, and has taken the lead in the Babe Ruth Award sweepstakes.
Zito did get into some trouble in the sixth inning, and was replaced by another of the Giants' question marks: Tim Lincecum. And Lincecum, with the first Detroit run already across the plate, struck out Jhonny Peralta to preserve the Giants' 6-1 lead. Lincecum pitched scoreless seventh and eighth innings, too, ultimately retiring all seven Tigers he faced. With five strikeouts. And in the process, he might have given Bruce Bochy a template for Game 5: Get whatever he can from Zito, then turn to the two-time Cy Young Award winner for some late-innings dominance.
With an eye on the future, Bochy turned to left Jose Mijares in the ninth, and Mijares got his one batter (Prince Fielder) before giving way to (usually) long man George Kontos. Delmon Young greeted Kontos with a ground-ball single into right field, and Peralta followed with a drive to deep center field. Ángel Pagán made a leaping try, but succeeded only in deflecting the ball off the top of the fence, and it bounced over for a two-run homer.
Bochy stuck with Kontos -- after all, the Giants still had a five-run lead -- and the right-hander retired pinch-hitter Andy Dirks on a little comebacker, only to walk Alex Avila. That finally brought Bochy out of the dugout, and he summoned left-hander Jeremy Affeldt to face pinch-hitter Ramon Santiago. And Santiago sent Affeldt's first pitch straight to shortstop Brandon Crawford, who flipped to Marco Scutaro for the game-ending fielder's choice.
The story of Game 1 might have been Barry Zito's second straight clutch performance, or it might have been Tim Lincecum's unhittable relief work, or it might have been Justin Verlander's uncharacteristic struggles. But instead this one will always belong to Pablo Sandoval, and to everyone who was lucky enough to see him make history.