By David Heck
Yankees radio announcer John Sterling likes to say that you can’t predict baseball. That proved to be the case last night, when Barry Zito and the Giants took down Justin Verlander and the Tigers, 8-3, in Game 1 of the World Series. Here are five things you didn’t know about the game.
1. Pablo Sandoval became the fourth player in World Series history to hit three homers in a World Series game, joining Babe Ruth, Reggie Jackson and Albert Pujols. OK, so you might have known that. But you might not have known that no other player accomplished the feat in Game 1 of the series. And you might not have known that after only two players enjoyed three-homer games in the first 106 World Series (Ruth did it twice), we’ve now seen a player do it in the last two World Series.
And that’s only the start. There’s only been one other player to enjoy a three-homer game at AT&T Park since it opened in 2000 – and that was in the first game ever played there. Dodgers shortstop Kevin Elster went deep three times on April 11, 2000, getting to Giants starter Kirk Reuter twice and reliever Felix Hernandez once.
Also of note is the fact that only three Giants players have hit at least three home runs at AT&T Park this entire year. Sandoval (seven), Buster Posey (seven) and Brandon Belt (five) were the only ones to do it. The Giants ranked last in the Majors with 31 homers at home this season, well behind the 29th-place Pirates (29).
2. Zito won the Cy Young Award all the way back in 2002. It took him 10 years after that to start in his first World Series game. That’s the longest anyone has ever gone between the two feats. He did just fine, though, allowing one run over 5 2/3 innings to record the win. In 60 1/3 postseason innings, Zitois now 6-3 with a 2.83 ERA. That’s quite a bit better than Justin Verlander, who has gone 6-4 with a 4.22 ERA in 70 1/3 playoff frames.
3. When Zito singled in the fourth inning to knock in Belt, it marked the fourth consecutive game that a Giants starting pitcher had driven in a run – a streak that started with Zito’s RBI bunt-single in Game 5 of the NLCS. That’s the first time a team has gotten RBIs from its starting pitcher in four straight games. Even more impressively, Zito became just the fourth pitcher ever to get a hit off Verlander. The others were Adam Eaton, Bronson Arroyo and Travis Wood.
4. Verlander lasted just four innings in the loss, surrendering five runs on six hits and a walk. The last time Verlander failed to pitch into the fifth? October 8, 2011, when the Rangers scored three runs off of him over four frames in Game 1 of the ALCS. The time before that? June 22, 2010 (excluding the rain-delayed game against the Yankees in Game 1 of the ALDS last year). In that game, the Mets got to him for five runs on five hits and three walks in just two innings. Again excluding that rain-delayed ALDS contest, Verlander has gone at least five innings in 91 of his last 94 games pitched.
5. Tim Lincecum relieved for Zito in the sixth and ended up striking out five over 2 1/3 perfect frames. Lincecum, Zito and Verlander have all won the Cy Young Award, making it just the second World Series game in which three Cy Young winners pitched. The first time it happened was on October 14, 1984 in Game 3 of the World Series. Mike Flanagan started for the Orioles against the Phillies’ Steve Carlton, though Jim Palmer won the game for Baltimore with two scoreless innings of relief.
6. Bonus fact! Taco Bell will give away free tacos if anyone steals a base in this World Series. The last World Series that did not feature a steal was all the way back in 1944, when the St. Louis Browns played the St. Louis Cardinals.
So get ready, America. Free tacos are on the way.