SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The empty champagne bottle sitting in the clubhouse as players passed by on their way to the showers was the only remaining sign of the celebration of a few nights earlier, when the San Francisco Giants somehow found their way into the World Series.
There would be no celebration on this night, because the Giants understand better than anyone that a 1-0 lead in the World Series doesn’t guarantee anything. Not even when it’s done in the most improbable manner on the backs of a couple of former postseason castoffs, one of whom made baseball history with three swings of the bat.
The pitcher and the Panda couldn’t have been a more unlikely combination, though by now it’s hard to be surprised by anything with these Giants. What other team, after all, could start one former Cy Young winner, then put in another when the first finally ran out of the adrenaline that even at its peak could only get him 85 mph on his fastball?
Barry Zito was on the scrap heap two years ago when the Giants won their first World Series since moving to San Francisco more than a half century ago. Pablo Sandoval had a great nickname but a slow bat and a big belly when he lost his job at third base for most of that series.
They weren’t supposed to be the stars of this series, certainly not the featured actors in Game 1. That was the role for Justin Verlander, triple crown winner Miguel Cabrera or Prince Fielder on the heavily favored Detroit Tigers.
But Zito and Sandoval made magic Wednesday night before a frenzied crowd of 42,855 in their Halloween best orange and black at AT&T Park. Together they combined to beat the ace of the Detroit staff and perhaps set the tone for a World Series that might be very different than the one a lot of baseball people imagined.
“After they came in here with Verlander and couldn’t win I’m sure it raises questions in their head about where they’re at,” said Tim Lincecum, the new ace reliever of the Giants.
Where they’re at is down a game in a series that won’t be over until one team wins four. Not exactly buried, but certainly not what the Tigers expected when they sent a pitcher who has been untouchable in the postseason to the mound for an outing that lasted just four innings.
For that, the Giants can thank a hitter who found a way to step away from the family lasagna, and a pitcher who finally found a way to earn his many millions.
“Barry is a story everybody should love. I get choked up just thinking about it,” teammate Aubrey Huff said. “And we all got a chance to witness history tonight. For everything that happened in ’10 for Pablo to come and do something like this is pretty special.”
It was special when Sandoval — who embraced the Kung Fu Panda nickname a few years back — hit a line drive off a 95 mph Verlander fast ball in the first inning that never seemed to gain or lose altitude until after it disappeared over the center field fence. He hit another to left off Verlander in the third inning, then hit another line drive off an Al Alburquerque pitch over the center field fence in the fifth to become only the fourth player — Babe Ruth did it twice — to hit three home runs in a World Series game.
It could have gone from special to unbelievable had Sandoval hit one more when he came up against Tigers closer Jose Valverde in the seventh. But Sandoval had to settle for a sharp single that still capped one of the greatest World Series performances ever.
“I still can’t believe it,” Sandoval said. “When you’re a little kid, you dream of being in the World Series, but I was thinking of being in this situation, three homers in one game.”
Not too shabby for a player who was benched in the 2010 World Series and told by the Giants a few days later that he had better lay off the lasagna and get in shape or he would be playing the next season in Triple A Fresno.
“I’m sure he looks back at that time, that experience he had, and I’m sure he wasn’t too happy with how it went there in 2010,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. “He looks very determined to show that not just us, everybody, what a great talent he is.”
Zito was always a great talent, too, and a great disappointment on this side of the bay ever since he was lured away from the Oakland A’s in 2007 with a $126 million contract to be the ace of the Giants staff. But Zito struggled under the expectations of the big contract and was pitching so poorly in 2010 that the Giants left him off the postseason roster.
Junkball pitchers usually have to have smarts, though, just to survive. Zito was smarter than most and kept trying to find a way to win, finally breaking through in the second half of this year thanks to a tweak in his delivery and the addition of a cut fastball.
The Giants have won the last 14 games he’s started, with the biggest a shutout win in St. Louis that kept their postseason hopes alive — but just barely. Still, he was not anyone’s idea of a Game 1 starter, especially going up against the hard-throwing Verlander.
“Just awesome, man,” Zito said. “Just a pleasure to be a part of it.”
That’s something all the Giants could say after having to win six postseason elimination games just to get in the World Series. They broke out the champagne after putting away the Cardinals on Monday night, and the tendency after such an emotional win might have been to come out flat. But Sandoval’s home run in the first inning gave them momentum against Verlander, and the game wasn’t as close as the final score indicated.
It was just one game, and the Giants will need three more to raise another World Series flag in their rollicking ballpark by the Bay. But it was more than that for two players who clawed their way back into the spotlight, then delivered when it counted most.
“It’s definitely kind of a cool thing that we’re both sitting up here after 2010,” Zito said.
A lot of Giants fans think it’s very cool, indeed.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org or follow at http://twitter.com/timdahlberg
More Related Stories
- Cannes: Ryan Gosling's new movie draws the boo-birds
- Radio host tweets rape joke, blames journalists for reporting on it
- Juror responds to Joe Francis' insults with thoughtful email
- New track from the Lonely Island features Solange Knowles, semicolons
- Amazon introduces fan fiction publishing platform
- Naomi Watts, "Argo," "Wonderstone" among bizarre Teen Choice Awards nominees
- Imprisoned Pussy Riot member declares hunger strike
- The camp-free "Behind the Candelabra"
- Justin Bieber will destroy you if you live-tweet his parties
- Marc Maron on Twitter feud with Michael Ian Black: "We have an understanding"
- "Girls Gone Wild" creator Joe Francis to jury: "You should be euthanized"
- Ai Weiwei releases heavy metal music video
- Actually, Beyoncé is a feminist
- Marc Maron and Michael Ian Black's epic Twitter battle
- Cannes: Directing 101 with James Franco
- Welcome to the jungle: The definitive oral history of '80s metal
- Burt Bacharach opens up on daughter's suicide
- Steven Spielberg to produce "Halo" television series
- Amazon set to launch fine-art gallery
- Twitter torches Dan Brown's "Inferno"
- Brad Pitt keeps breaking his silence on how boring marriage to Jennifer Aniston was
Featured Slide Shows
The week in 10 picsclose X
- 1 of 11
Lisa Montgomery embraces her nephew Thursday after a tornado tore apart her home in Cleburne, Texas. The twister killed six people and destroyed entire swaths of the North Texas town.
Credit: AP/LM Otero
Jack McMahon, the defense attorney for abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, speaks outside the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia Tuesday. His client was convicted of killing three babies in his clinic, and will serve multiple life sentences.
Credit: AP/Matt Rourke
A photo taken Monday captures Vice President Joe Biden's response to a Milwaukee second-grader's innovative proposal to end America's epidemic of gun violence. This guy!
Credit: AP/Jenny Aicher
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., flanked by a grouper-eyed Michele Bachmann, addresses the IRS' admission that it targeted Tea Party groups in advance of the 2012 election. In an op-ed for CNN Thursday, the Kentucky senator slammed the president for his faux outrage.
Credit: AP/Molly Riley
Ousted IRS chief Steven Miller is sworn in on Capitol Hill Friday. Miller testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on the extra scrutiny the agency gave conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Attorney General Eric Holder pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Holder is under fire, among other things, for the Justice Department's gathering of phone records at the Associated Press.
Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster
O.J. Simpson sits during an evidentiary hearing at Clark County District Court in Las Vegas, Nev., Thursday. Simpson, who is currently serving a nine-to-33-year sentence in state prison for armed robbery and kidnapping, is using a writ of habeas corpus to seek a new trial.
Credit: AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Jeff Scheid
Major Tom to ground control: On Sunday astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded the first music video from space, a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity."
Credit: AP/NASA/Chris Hadfield
When it rains it pours. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inexplicably inspiring an #umbrellagate Twitter meme.
Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin
A smoke plume rises high above a road block at the intersection of County A and Ross Road east of Solon Springs, Wis., Tuesday. No injuries were reported, but the the wildfire caused evacuations across northwestern Wisconsin.
Credit: AP/The Duluth News-Tribune/Clint Austin
Recent Slide Shows
- 1 of 11