San Francisco Giants

Giants’ Sandoval comes up big in Series opener - again

San Francisco Giants hitter Pablo Sandoval (48) hits a double down the right field line off Royals starting pitcher Kansas City Royals starting pitcher James Shields (33) in there top of the first inning in Game 1 of the World Series at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo. on Tuesday, Oct. 21, 2014.
San Francisco Giants hitter Pablo Sandoval (48) hits a double down the right field line off Royals starting pitcher Kansas City Royals starting pitcher James Shields (33) in there top of the first inning in Game 1 of the World Series at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo. on Tuesday, Oct. 21, 2014. jvillegas@sacbee.com

-- The first pitch James Shields threw Pablo Sandoval on Tuesday night was a 94 mile per hour fastball.

"Right down the middle," Sandoval said. "I take it. I don’t know why."

The next was a curveball, so low that when Sandoval swung and made contact, bat met ball around the Giants third baseman’s ankles.

But the result was a familiar one: A double down the right-field line that scored Gregor Blanco from first base for the first run of the 2014 World Series. It extended Sandoval’s streak of reaching base safely in the postseason to 24 games, the majors’ longest current streak and tied for the fourth-longest all time.

It also was the first major blow of the Giants’ balanced offensive attack in their 7-1 win over the Kansas City Royals in Game 1 on Tuesday night. The Giants knocked Shields out in the fourth inning, having allowed five runs on seven hits, and went on to total 10 hits with five different players driving in runs.

That included two RBIs on two hits from Sandoval, who continues to show that October is his time. Sandoval is now 16-for-48 (.333) this postseason and saw his career playoff batting average tick upward to .328. For the second time in three years, he came up big in a World Series opener -- less historically, perhaps, than his three-homer performance in Game 1 against the Tigers in 2012, but no less impactful.

The Giants are now 5-0 this postseason when scoring first. Tuesday night, they were in a stadium where fans had been waiting 29 years to see their team back in the World Series. They were facing a team had not lost all postseason. And when Sandoval’s double gave the Giants a 1-0 lead -- and Hunter Pence followed by crushing Shields’ full-count pitch over the wall in center field -- the effect could be measured by the decrease in decibels.

"It was important," Sandoval said of the early offense. "Especially because this crowd is a little bit loud."

Sandoval then added with a grin: "Not like San Francisco Giants fans."

Royals manager Ned Yost said afterward of Shields’ pitches to Sandoval and Pence: "I can’t say those pitches … were mistakes.

"They’re tough, man, Pence and Sandoval, both of them," Yost said. "You’ve got to mix your pitches. You’ve got to work inside, you’ve got to work down and away, you’ve got to work down, almost bounce pitches at times. But his strike zone is so big, it’s difficult."

The Tigers found that out in Game 1 in 2012, the start of a Series in which Sandoval went 8-for-16 and earned MVP honors in the Giants’ sweep. Sandoval followed his 8-for-20 showing in this year’s NLCS with a 2-for-5 night Tuesday that could have been a three-hit game -- and originally was, until a scoring change on his shot past third baseman Mike Moustakas in the ninth was changed from a hit to an error.

Aside from the calendar turning to October, catcher Buster Posey was asked, is there any way to tell when Sandoval is about to start one of these streaks?

"It’s hard to say," Posey said. "He does such a good job of being the same guy all the time. He’s in here before the game keeping everybody loose. But he’s one of those guys, I think he likes this stage."

The numbers would suggest as much. Sandoval had driven in just one run these playoffs before Tuesday night. But he leads the Giants in hits (16), runs (7) and extra-base hits this postseason -- a strong (and timely) showing for the free agent-to-be.

Sandoval, though, said Tuesday night he cares little about his own statistics right now. It may be explanatory, or just an irony. But the time when the third baseman professes his individual numbers matter least is the moment in which they seem to rise -- along with their impact.

"Feel great (because) we win," Sandoval said. "That’s the most important thing."

* Sandoval’s offense alone would have been enough to back Madison Bumgarner on this night, with the left-hander adding another chapter to his already storied postseason career. Bumgarner’s night is detailed in the game story, but here’s the short version:

Seven innings, three hits, one run, five strikeouts. In five starts this postseason, he’s 3-1 with a 1.40 ERA in 38 2/3 innings. In three career World Series starts, he’s 3-0 and has allowed one run in 22 innings.

Bumgarner’s streak of 21 scoreless World Series innings to start his career is second all-time to Christy Mathewson (28). And he ran his MLB-record streak of scoreless innings on the road in postseason to 32 2/3 before Salvador Perez’s homer in the seventh. After the game, though, the reaction of teammates was perhaps more telling than the numbers.

"He looked like normal old Madison out there," Brandon Belt said. "Same as he always does."

"Seems like old Madison," Brandon Crawford said. "I think any playoff game really this year, even the regular season, that’s how he goes about his business."

"There is no bigger stage," said Pence. "But he’s just Madison Bumgarner."

Perhaps that should tell you all you need to know about the 25-year-old, who already has six postseason wins in his career. His performance in baseball’s biggest moments, those record-setting streaks, seem to those who see him every day as Bumgarner simply going about his business.

* Crawford did acknowledge that when he realized Bumgarner hadn’t given up a run in his first 21 World Series innings, he found it "unbelievable."

"I didn’t hear about it until after the game," Crawford said. "I was making fun of him for giving up a run.

"But that doesn’t come around very often."

* And what about those 67 mile per hour curveballs Bumgarner dropped on the Royals, including the one Moustakas waved at for strike three in the fifth inning? Posey said it’s something Bumgarner has worked in during the regular season. But there he was in his 39th start of 2014 -- regular season and postseason combined -- tossing in a wrinkle that appeared to have the Royals totally off-guard.

"It was just giving the hitter a different look," Posey said. "I think that’s what part of his progression as a pitcher has been, is he’s been able to add and subtract with the offspeed. To be able to command that, still, is impressive."

Does Posey know when those are coming?

"No," he said. "Don’t know."

Bumgarner: "Just going off the way the hitters look in their previous swing, or what kind of feel I have for it … I don’t do it too often. There are a lot of games that I don’t throw any of them. So just depending on the situation and how it feels, just to give it a different look."

* Much of the talk leading up to the series was about the Royals’ speed on the bases and in the outfield. The count after Game 1: No stolen base attempts. And it was the Giants making several eye-catching plays on defense, including Gregor Blanco ranging deep in center to track down an Eric Hosmer drive in the first inning and Crawford (who made an error on a routine grounder in the third) making an over-the-shoulder catch in shallow center for the final out of the seventh.

"That play that Blanco made on Hosmer, I didn’t think there was any way he was going to catch that ball," Yost said. "He ran it down and caught it, I mean, fairly easily. But it was still a spectacular play."

Crawford said it was gratifying, after hearing about the Royals’ advantages for the days leading up to the series, for the Giants to play solid defense in Game 1. "Definitely," he said. "I mean, I think that’s something we’ve been doing well in the postseason so far."

Said Bumgarner: "We’re used to it but we don’t get a whole lot of credit really anywhere. We don’t need to hear it. We know what kind of team we have."

As for the lack of stolen base attempts, Yost said: "Well, we never got on base … The old adage is you can’t steal first. And Bumgarner did a great job of keeping us off base."

* The second question posed to Yost after the game was whether Shields, who has given up 15 runs in 19 innings this postseason, will start Game 5 if necessary. Yost answered with one word: "Yeah."

* Ailene Voisin wrote about Pence and his pivotal first-inning homer Tuesday night. But just so you don’t miss out on probably the quote of the night, this was Pence’s response when asked whether he noticed how quiet Kauffman Stadium got when his drive off of Shields cleared the wall:

"No, it was really loud in my head.

"I say this, and I truly mean it, sometimes my mind when I’m playing the game or our team is doing something good, it’s like an emptiness. I don’t know what’s going on around me. And a lot of times my family will get mad at me because even if I’m watching TV and really watching the show, I won’t hear anything that’s being said around me.

"It’s jut something that I have. It’s kind of a blessing and a curse at home. I get people really angry with me, but on the field it works out good."

* Hunter Strickland pitched a scoreless ninth to secure the win in his first appearance since Game 2 of the NLCS, when he allowed his fourth home run of the postseason. Manager Bruce Bochy had said the Giants’ coaches had "tweaked" some mechanical things with Strickland, and the right-hander saw results Tuesday night.

"I felt better," Strickland said. "Just to get back out there in general. Making better pitches, executing my pitches was just the main things we focused on."

Strickland they did check to see if he might be tipping pitches, "But we didn’t find anything major. It was just kind of executing the pitches."

In the moment Tuesday, Strickland said he didn’t really soak in the fact that he was pitching in the World Series, not two months removed from closing in Double-A.

"But looking back on it, it’s pretty awesome," he said. "I mean, it’s an honor for Boch to put me in that position, and just in the game in general."

* Finally, you might think those Giants players in their third World Series in five seasons would be finding the drill to be old hat by now. You might especially think that about the unflappable Posey. Yet the Giants’ catcher said this after Tuesday’s win:

"I still had probably the same amount of jitters as I did in 2010. Good jitters, though. The ones that you, I guess, that you enjoy."

They were followed by another familiar feeling -- that of a World Series win. The Giants have won their last seven World Series games in a row, tied for the sixth-longest streak in major-league history.

In 15 of the last 17 World Series, the Game 1 winner has gone on to win a championship. The Giants are also the first road team to win Game 1 since the 2009 Phillies.

"It’s one game," Posey said. "We definitely don’t expect them to lay over."

Call The Bee’s Matt Kawahara, (916) 321-1015. See his baseball coverage at sacbee.com/mlb. Follow him on Twitter at @matthewkawahara.

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