SAN FRANCISCO -- Pablo Sandoval made little impact in his first World Series two years ago, appearing in one game with three unexceptional at-bats.
After three at-bats of this World Series, the man known as Kung Fu Panda swung his way into the record books and gave the Giants a leg up for their second title in three years.
Becoming only the fourth player to hit three home runs in a World Series game, Sandoval led the usually light-hitting Giants to a resounding, 8-3 Game 1 win over Justin Verlander and the Tigers Wednesday night in front of 42,855 fans who shook AT&T Park for nearly 3½ hours.
"I'm a fan, too, and when you see something like this it makes you appreciate the gifts and talents these players have,'' said Bruce Bochy, who sat Sandoval in four of five World Series games in 2010. "I couldn't be happier for him. With what he went through in 2010, now he's getting a chance to show what kind of player he is. Three home runs on a stage like this, that's pretty impressive.''
Sandoval homered in the first and third innings off Verlander, and again in the fifth off Al Alburquerque. His third blast gave a 6-0 lead to the Giants, only the seventh team since 1900 to reach the World Series despite hitting the fewest homers in the majors (103).
Sandoval's fourth hit, a single in a two-run seventh, made it 8-1. "It means a lot,'' he said. "In 2010 I didn't get to play too much, and you never know when it's going to happen again.''
Before last night, the only player to hit three homers in a game in this park was Kevin Elster, on the day it opened in 2000.
Verlander had been brilliant this postseason but had a bad World Series past -- 0-2 with a 5.73 ERA in the 2006 loss to the Cardinals. He was gone after four innings and 98 pitches after allowing five runs and six hits.
"I just didn't execute tonight,'' he said. "It was kind of a battle for me from the get-go and they took advantage of that. They swung the bats well, especially Pablo and [Marco] Scutaro.''
Verlander was outdueled by lefty Barry Zito, who came in 1-0 with a 1.74 ERA this postseason.
The 34-year-old Zito, 5-3 with a 2.96 ERA in nine previous postseason starts, allowed one run and six hits in 52/3 innings before handing things off to another former Cy Young Award winner. Tim Lincecum pitched 21/3 hitless innings, striking out five and walking none.
Zito, who walked one and struck out three, also hit an RBI single, an opposite-field liner off Verlander in the fourth that made it 5-0.
"Awesome,'' Zito said of Sandoval's performance. "It was a pleasure to be a part of it.''
It was reminiscent of Game 1 of the 2010 Series, when the Rangers' Cliff Lee came in with the "unbeatable'' label, 3-0 with a 0.75 ERA to that point in that postseason. The Giants pounded Lee for seven runs and eight hits over 42/3 innings of an 11-7 win.
This time it was Verlander bringing in the sterling postseason mark, 3-0 with a 0.74 ERA so far in 2012.
"It's hard to figure this game sometimes,'' Bochy said. "These guys are human and sometimes they're not quite on top of their game. We know what a great pitcher he is.''
Sandoval, who was hitting .320 with three homers and nine RBIs in the playoffs, fell behind 0-and-2 with two outs in the first inning before driving Verlander's 95-mph fastball over the wall in right-center for a 1-0 lead. Prior to that, Verlander had allowed only five homers, counting postseason, in his career with the count 0-and-2.
"I tried to elevate there and didn't get it high enough,'' Verlander said. "I didn't quite know he was that locked in at that point. He obviously was seeing the ball pretty well tonight.''