SAN FRANCISCO Call him, Señor October.
Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval joined the legends of baseball Wednesday and powered an 8-3 Giants win over the Detroit Tigers by hitting three home runs in the first game of the 2012 World Series.
That Sandoval hit two of those home runs off Tigers starter Justin Verlander, perhaps baseball's most dominant pitcher, added luster to an amazing personal achievement in a series where the Giants are or maybe were decided underdogs.
"(Sandoval) had one of the most unbelievable World Series nights that they'll be talking about for years," said Tigers manager Jim Leyland. "I tip my hat to him."
Only 26, the portly native of Puerto Cabello, Venezuela, joins none other than Babe Ruth on the short list of men to hit three homers in a World Series game.
Also on the list: Albert Pujols, who now plays first base for the Los Angeles Angels and is certain to be enshrined one day at Cooperstown. And Reggie Jackson, the New York Yankees slugger, already in baseball's Hall of Fame, who in 1977 hit three home runs in one series game against the Los Angeles Dodgers. It earned Jackson the nickname "Mr. October."
Enter, Señor October.
"I still can't believe it, man," said Sandoval with his trademark smile.
It wasn't just the home runs. It was the way Sandoval hit them.
In the first inning, Verlander had two strikes on Sandoval and came at him with a 95 mph fastball. For most hitters, that spells a dismal walk back to the dugout. Sandoval crushed the pitch more than 400 feet to straightaway center field.
Verlander, so dominant last week while eliminating the New York Yankees, looked shocked as Sandoval rounded the bases.
It set the tone for the Giants onslaught to come. In the third inning, Verlander seemed offended when his pitching coach came out to confer with him as Sandoval waited to hit.
A little caution would have been prudent, because when Verlander came back with that 95 mph fastball, Sandoval crushed it again this time to left field.
Verlander was soon gone, but no matter. Sandoval victimized his replacement right-handed reliever Al Alburquerque with another home run to center field.
No player has ever hit four home runs in a World Series game and a happy groan went through the park when Sandoval hit a single in his final at-bat.
When asked for detailed explanations for his postseason success, Sandoval was, well, pure Sandoval.
"I don't look for nothing, I just swing," he said. "I just try to follow the pitch."
Why are he and other Giants hitters suddenly destroying the opposition, when only recently they couldn't buy a hit? "We're just having fun," Sandoval said.
Sandoval is the clown prince of the Giants: the happy prankster and surrogate big brother to rookie catcher and fellow Venezuelan Hector Sanchez. When the moment called for a Giants player to get a cream pie in the face, Sandoval was usually Pablo on the Spot.
After a bitter loss, Sandoval is there with a smile and a manly assurance to the media that the Giants will be fine he and his teammates can get the opposition tomorrow.
He always seems surprised at the large group of media massed around his locker. "Are you waiting for me guys?" he'll ask without a hint of sarcasm while hiking up too-tight jeans, snapping on his diamond earring, and fastening an enormous watch to his wrist.
It's who he is. Some players smile with their mouths but not their eyes. Not "The Panda."
Listed at 5-11 and 240 pounds, Sandoval seems heavier. A substantial boiler hangs over his belt and there is an endearing quality when he is called upon by events of the game to move that big body around the bases with great haste.
For good and bad, Sandoval's weight is a reflection of the total package a virtuoso hitter in the body of an apprentice sumo wrestler.
There were times during the 2012 season when the Giants were stern with their occasionally wayward son. Giants manager Bruce Bochy had more than one heart-to-heart where he put it to Sandoval in blunt terms: He was too big. His work ethic was questioned. He needed to buckle down.
He spent significant parts of the season injured or struggling to regain his form.
Then last week, Sandoval began hitting and was a major factor in the Giants beating the St. Louis Cardinals in their come-from-behind National League championship.
He seems a world apart from the guy the Giants benched in the 2010 World Series because he wasn't hitting or fielding well.
Those days seem long gone.
"I couldn't be happier for him," said Bochy. "To watch that, I'll never forget it."