SAN FRANCISCO -- So do the Tigers have to go back to the drawing board and figure out a different way to pitch to Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval? Or do they have the right approach but simply need to execute it better?
"Well, obviously, whatever we tried today didn't work," Detroit catcher Alex Avila said after Sandoval hit three home runs in San Francisco's 8-3 win in Game 1 of the World Series on Wednesday night at AT&T Park. "We'll just kind of look at more video and see how certain pitches have gotten him out."
Can't hurt. For the most part, though, the early returns suggested that it wasn't the game plan so much as a dangerous combination of one very hot hitter getting some pitches that weren't exactly where they were supposed to be.
"I just didn't execute. It was kind of a battle for me from the get-go," said Tigers ace Justin Verlander, who served up the first two homers. "They took advantage of that. Extremely impressive. I wish I hadn't contributed."
Added Avila: "It started a little bit with his fastball command, but you have to give credit to Sandoval there. He had an unbelievable game."
Sandoval's big night started with two outs and nobody on in the bottom of the first. The first pitch was a called strike on a fastball. The count went to 0-2 when Sandoval fouled off a changeup. The next pitch was another fastball, 95 mph, that was above the strike zone -- that Sandoval was able to drive out to center.
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"I tried to elevate there and didn't get it high enough," Verlander said. "Obviously, I didn't know he was quite that locked in at that point, but he was seeing the ball pretty well."
Of the three homers Sandoval hit, Avila said that one surprised him the most.
"Because he was behind [in the count] and he caught up to a high fastball like that," Avila said. "I mean, he's a free swinger. He hits bad balls pretty good. He'll hit balls. But that was impressive."
The second home run, in the third, came after Verlander fell behind, 2-0, on two changeups in the dirt. He came back with another 95-mph fastball, this one down and away. Sandoval went with it and hit it out to left. Television cameras caught Verlander mouthing "wow" as the ball disappeared, but he wasn't complimenting the hitter.
"To be honest with you, I didn't think he hit it that well," Verlander said. "I thought he hit it well, but I didn't think it was going to get out. Especially after watching BP yesterday, the ball doesn't carry very well here usually. I've seen enough balls off the bat now to usually know when somebody gets one, and I definitely didn't think that was a homer off the bat. Turned around and watched Delmon [Young] standing at the wall, and that's where the 'wow' came from. It was totally unexpected. I thought it was going to be caught, probably on the warning track."
By the time Sandoval came up again in the fifth, this time facing reliever Al Alburquerque, the sellout crowd was buzzing with anticipation. And he didn't let them down. Sandoval fouled off a fastball, took a ball and then ripped an 84-mph slider to center for his World Series record-tying third homer of the game.
"That was impressive, too," Avila said. "Slider down and in. Going down and getting it. We just couldn't get him out.
"They did everything right and we didn't. They executed, we didn't. That's the bottom line. That's why you play a seven-game series. It's not going to be difficult to put this behind us. That's what we do for a living."
Tigers manager Jim Leyland talked about Verlander being out of sync and conceded it may have had something to do with the long layoff since the last time he pitched, in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series on Oct. 16. But, mostly, he credited Sandoval.
"He hit one down, he hit a couple up," Leyland said. "He just had one of those big nights. He's an outstanding hitter, obviously, and he just had one of those nights where anything we threw, he hit. I think you certainly tip your hat to what Sandoval did. You can't sit up here and say what he did was a fluke. I mean, it was unbelievable. The guy had one of those unbelievable World Series nights that they'll be talking about for years. So I tip my hat to him."
Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.