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Verlander, Shmerlander — Panda owns him

Published: Wednesday, October 24, 2012 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, October 24, 2012 at 10:42 p.m.

SAN FRANCISCO

Calling Pablo Sandoval The Panda isn’t enough, not anymore. It doesn’t do justice to what he did in Game 1 of the World Series.

Sandoval hit three home runs, hit them in his first three at-bats. Amazing. So, maybe we should stop calling him just plain Panda and rename him The Panda of Swat or The Power Panda or The Slayer of Verlander. Because he killed Detroit starting pitcher Justin Verlander, who is supposed to be the best pitcher in ball, kill-proof and invincible. The Panda of Swat sure made him vincible.

The three home runs in one World Series game vaults Sandoval up there with the other guys who did it, call them the first-name guys — the Babe (he did it twice), Reggie and Albert. OK, Albert is Albert Pujols, but you get the idea. Sandoval just entered a special Home Run Pantheon.

Homer No. 1 came in the bottom of the first. Verlander had retired the first two batters, and Sandoval came to the plate and you figured Verlander, who was throwing 94 mph, would blow him away and stroll to the dugout and relax. But Sandoval crushed a high fastball over the Visa sign in center field — it went 421 feet.

Here is Jeremy Affeldt, the Giants’ best explainer, on Homer No. 1: “(Verlander) tried to throw an 0-2 fastball up over his hands, and he didn’t get high enough. Pablo, he’s not afraid to swing the bat. He’ll swing at any count, really. If you don’t get it high enough, that’s what will happen. Going dead center in our place is really hard to do, but it just shows how strong he is.”

Call Homer No. 1 a statement home run. It didn’t decide the game or vanquish Verlander — that would come later. It announced to the Tigers and the world the Giants felt zero intimidation. Verlander Shmerlander.

Homer No. 2 was even more impressive. Verlander threw a pitch on the outside corner, on the black, as they say. A pitch like that is supposed to be unhittable. Sandoval waited on it, let the ball get deep into his stance, went with it and blasted it into the left-field seats — 379 feet — and drove in Marco Scutaro.

On the radio, Duane Kuiper said in his understated way, “I guess we know who has ownage on Verlander.”

True, in the All Star Game, Sandoval hit a three-run triple off Verlander. We’re talking major ownage. After Homer No. 2, Verlander turned around in disgust and shouted something like “Wow!” That’s how good his pitch was.

Again, Affeldt: “It’s a guy hitting a pitcher’s pitch. (Verlander) threw the pitch where he wanted it. I don’t think you’d say he made a mistake. Pablo just beat him. Nine times out of 10, I’m going to make that pitch and trust it’s going to work. (Pablo’s) really strong — opposite-field shot, especially in a park like this.”

I’m running out of space, so let’s just say in the fifth Sandoval hit Homer No. 3 — 435 feet to center. He hit it off reliever Al Alburquerque, who sounds like someone from a Kerouac novel and is now a Panda statistic.

After Homer No. 3, “We were just going nuts there,” Barry Zito said. “We didn’t even know at that point if it even had ever been done, and we’re just like, ‘Oh my gosh!’”

Sandoval broke his bat during that at-bat and had to get another one.

“I use that bat all my postseason,” he said. “I don’t get too much superstition. There’s more bats in there. It’s not the bat. It’s you.”

Someone asked where the broken bat is.

“The guy from Cooperstown take it,” Sandoval said.

In his fourth at-bat, he hit a mere screaming single to left, making him 4-for-4 on the night.

Affeldt: “We were going for four homers. I was kind of hoping for a water shot there. He got a lousy single and killed the whole deal for us. You can’t do that. You can’t hit three home runs and then hit a single.”

Sandoval has a history. He barely played in the 2010 Series because he wasn’t doing well. He was an afterthought, although not as much of an afterthought as Zito. So those home runs told the world he’s become a main thought and a big topic.

He hit only 12 home runs this season, skimpy. He has an excuse — hand surgery. His power is back now, back big time. He has hit six home runs this postseason.

There’s one other thing, and you know this is true. He doesn’t look athletic. He looks chubby and jolly and he smiles a lot. But none of this has anything to do with Sandoval the batter, who has become lethal. He comes to the plate and does that routine, dancing those hop steps and tapping the bat on his helmet and, at some point, he becomes a murderer, especially if you throw him high heat.

People who know about such things had ceded Game 1 to the Tigers — Verlander vs. Zito, come on. But Sandoval and, yes, Zito put the lie to that. And they have changed the entire nature of this series. The Tigers are just like the Reds and Cardinals before them. Vincible.

For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at lowell.cohn@pressdemocrat.com.

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