Redemption for Giants Barry Zito and Pablo Sandoval in World Series Game 1
The worst thing about redemption is that you have to have been in a very bad place to experience it.
In baseball, it doesn’t get any worse than having your team win a World Series and feeling embarrassed that you were so useless and irrelevant that they didn’t even need your help.
Two years ago, when the San Francisco Giants won the World Series, Barry Zito wasn’t even on the team’s roster. So far from grace had he fallen, weighed down by his seven-year, $126-million contract and an inability to earn it.
Pablo Sandoval’s stock in the clubhouse was only slightly higher. The rotund, one-time darling of the masses had fallen on hard times and spent most of that World Series collecting splinters on the bench.
Oh, what a night this opening game of the 2012 World Series was for both of them.
While the normally reliable Justin Verlander was coming unglued in what would become an 8-3 San Francisco Giant romp over the Detroit Tigers, Zito mesmerized his opponents into the sixth inning with his impersonation of Jamie Moyer.
“Even as recently as September, I was battling just to make the playoff roster,” said Zito. “At that time, if you’d said I was going to start the first game of the World Series I wouldn’t have believed it. And to have it work out as it did tonight, I couldn’t be happier.”
Meanwhile, Sandoval was going all Babe Ruth on Verlander. In fact, he joined Ruth in a very exclusive fraternity of men who have hit three home runs in a World Series game. Sandoval stroked two of them off Verlander, the other off reliever Al Alburquerque.
Paired against the power of Verlander, soft-tossing Zito was slinging whiffle balls that the Tigers couldn’t square up. And while Zito was weaving that sorcery, Sandoval was turning Verlander’s evening into a train wreck, rounding out a foursome of the Babe, Reggie Jackson and Albert Pujols as the only people in history to knock three homers in a Fall Classic game.
“We got beat up tonight,” said Detroit manager Jim Leyland. “They beat us in every way that they could. When you use five pitchers in a game that Justin Verlander starts, that’s not a good tonic.”
As for Verlander and the script that called for him to roll through the Giants lineup like a hot knife through butter, well, not so much. He was a shadow of his normal self, slapped around like an aging journeyman rather than the best pitcher in baseball. He lasted only four innings, tagged with six hits and five runs, striking out just four batters. His swing-and-miss ability was nonexistent. In the last 10 at-bats of his evening he had one swing-and-miss, on a pitch to Brandon Belt.
In his career, Verlander had given up four home runs on an 0-2 count, the last one was in September of 2011 to Shelley Duncan of the Cleveland Indians. Verlander served up an eye-high 0-2 fastball at 95 miles per hour to Sandoval with two outs in the first and the one they call Kung Fu Panda launched it into the centre-field seats to give San Francisco an early 1-0 lead.
It was the third run allowed by Verlander this post-season, all of them on solo homers.
Verlander erased the next six batters he faced but, with two outs in the third, his whole night came unravelled. It began when Angel Pagan caromed a high-chopper off the third base bag for a double. Marco Scutaro then grinded out an eight-pitch at-bat, punctuating it with an RBI single to centre.
That brought Tigers pitching coach Jeff Jones to the mound. He and Verlander shared a smile, Jones went back to the dugout and then Verlander served up Sandoval’s second homer of the game, a two-run shot to left.
To add just a little more salt to the wound, Zito stepped up and sliced a two-out, fourth-inning RBI single, scoring Belt from second base to make it 5-0. In the top of the fifth, Verlander was done when Danny Worth pinch hit for the Tiger’s ace. The last time Verlander didn’t make it through five innings in a start was on June 22, 2010 when he went only two innings in a game against the New York Mets.
Sandoval smashed his third home run in the fifth inning off Alburquerque to make it 6-0.
“I’m happy for him,” Bochy said of Sandoval. “I’m sure he looks back on 2010 and I’m sure he wasn’t too happy with how it went. He looks determined to show not just us, but everybody, what a great talent he is.
“At that time, we needed to make a change but I’m a fan, too, and when you see something like this, it makes you appreciate the gifts these players have.”
The Tigers tried to rally in the sixth, scoring one run on a Miguel Cabrera single, but after Delmon Young singled to put two men base on with two outs, Giants manager Bruce Bochy replaced Zito, the 2002 American League Cy Young Award winner, with Tim Lincecum, the 2008 and 2009 National League Cy Young Award winner. Lincecum pitched 2 1/3 perfect innings, striking out five.
San Francisco added two more runs in the eighth off Detroit’s Jose Valverde, a man in search of his own redemption. After giving up four consecutive hits, he is still searching.
Unlike him, Zito and Sandoval have found a little peace.
“Pablo came up in 2009 and had an incredible year and then it didn’t happen for him in 2010,” said Zito. “But he never stopped working, never lost his confidence. For both of us, 2010 was a hard thing to get through, mentally.
“But look at where we are tonight. That’s baseball.”