Sandoval leads Giants over Verlander, Tigers in Game 1

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Sandoval leads Giants over Verlander, Tigers in Game 1

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) With three mighty swings, Pablo Sandoval put the San Francisco Giants ahead in this World Series and put himself in a class with Mr. October.

Sandoval hit three home runs and joined Reggie Jackson, Babe Ruth and Albert Pujols as the only sluggers to do it in the Series, and the Giants jolted Justin Verlander the Detroit Tigers 8-3 on Wednesday night in Game 1.

A rollicking AT&T Park crowd - a sea of black and orange outfits - roared as Sandoval connected in his first three at-bats. Popular in the Bay Area as the Kung Fu Panda for his roly-poly shape, he went 4 for 4 and drove in four runs. A Giant panda for sure.

Verlander, the reigning Cy Young winner so dominant in this postseason, looked uncomfortable from the get-go and constantly pawed at the mound.

The final score raised a nagging question for manager Jim Leyland and his favored Tigers: Did too much rest after a playoff sweep of the Yankees mean too much rust?

Tagged by Sandoval for a solo shot in the first inning, Verlander could only mouth Wow!' after the Giants star launched a two-run drive in the third. Sandoval reprised his power show from this year's All-Star game, when his bases-loaded triple highlighted a five-run first inning against Verlander.

And if there was any doubt that Verlander was shaky, the best sign came in the fourth. That's when pitcher Barry Zito, a career .099 hitter, sliced an RBI single with two outs off the current AL MVP for a 6-0 lead.

The festive crowd stood and applauded when it was announced that Verlander was being pulled for a pinch hitter in the fifth. Sandoval gave them another reason to get up moments later when he hit a solo homer off reliever Al Alburquerque in the fifth, answering the cheers by waving his batting helmet in a curtain call.

Pujols homered three times last year, Jackson accomplished the feat in 1977 and Ruth did it in 1926 and again in 1928.

For good measure, Sandoval lined a single his last time up.

From start to finish, it was basically a perfect game by the Giants. Coming off a Game 7 win over St. Louis on Monday night, they looked totally fresh.

Zito shut out the Tigers until Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera hit an RBI single in the sixth, and Tim Lincecum came out of the bullpen to prevent further damage.

NL championship series MVP Marco Scutaro hit RBI singles after doubles by Angel Pagan. NL batting champion Buster Posey contributed two hits and left fielder Gregor Blanco made diving catches to rob Cabrera and Prince Fielder.

Game 2 is Thursday night, with Doug Fister starting for the Tigers against Madison Bumgarner.

The Tigers seemed out of sync in their first game following a five-game layoff. That was an issue in 2006, too, when Verlander and his teammates had nearly a week off before getting wiped out by the Cardinals.

ALCS MVP Delmon Young failed to run after a tapper in front of the plate that the Giants turned into a double play. The Giants, meanwhile, kept getting good bounces, with Pagan hitting a double that hopped off the third-base bag.

Pitching in San Francisco for the first time since 2008, Verlander scuffed at the rubber while warming up for the first inning, pulled off his glove after badly overthrowing a curve and kept taking deep breaths. He hardly resembled the guy who was 3-0 with an 0.74 ERA in three playoff starts this year.

Ever since two poor outings in the 2006 Series against St. Louis - punctuated by two throwing errors - Verlander has worked hard to harness his emotions and 100 mph in the early going.

Verlander was trying to settle in when Sandoval tagged him, pouncing on an 0-2 fastball and lining it into the front row over the center-field wall. Quite a start for the team that finished last in the majors in home runs.

Get this: It was the first three-homer game at the stadium originally known as Pac Bell Park since the very first one, when Kevin Elster did it for the Dodgers in 2000. Nope, not even home run king Barry Bonds had done this.

It was certainly a moment of retribution of Sandoval. He was benched during the 2010 World Series, his production and confidence down, his weight up. In the stands on this night, fans wearing furry panda hats celebrated with him.

Verlander got into trouble again the third, and pitching coach Jeff Jones strolled to the mound when the count went to 2-0 on Sandoval. Verlander stared at Jones and shook his head. On the next pitch, Verlander could do little but watch the ball sail into the front row in left.

To some, this looked somewhat similar to the 2010 Series opener. That day, the Giants beat up the supposedly unhittable Cliff Lee on their way to a five-game romp over Texas.

This how got it bad for the Tigers: Former closer Jose Valverde made his first appearance in 11 days. Leyland still isn't what he'll get from the struggling reliever.

Lincecum, meanwhile, retired seven straight batters and struck out five of them. The two-time Cy Young winner has embraced his new role in the bullpen.

Jhonny Peralta hit a two-run homer for the Tigers in the ninth off mop-up reliever George Kontos.

NOTES: Tampa Bay's Desmond Jennings was the only other player this year to homer twice in a game off Verlander. ... Willie Mays and fellow Giants Hall of Famers Willie McCovey, Orlando Cepeda and Gaylord Perry took part in the first-ball ceremony. ... Tigers great Al Kaline, now a team executive, watched Detroit take batting practice from behind the cage. ... The Game 1 winner has won eight of the last nine championships. ... Cabrera and Posey marked the first set of batting champs to face each other in the World Series since 1954 when it was Mays of the New York Giants and Bobby Avila of Cleveland. When Cabrera walked on a close full-count pitch, he playfully patted the Giants' All-Star catcher on his way to first base. ... Tigers bullpen catcher Jeff Kunkel wandered the stands well before the teams took the field for warmups, snapping pictures of the stadium and field with his cell phone. ... The Giants franchise played its 106th Series game, trailing only the Yankees (225) and Cardinals (112). The Dodgers are fourth with 105.

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Kyle Schwarber catching again is a good step for a banged-up Cubs team

Kyle Schwarber catching again is a good step for a banged-up Cubs team

MESA, Ariz. – The Cubs are so strong up the middle that Javier Baez can star for Team Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic and return to camp as a super-utility guy/late-game defensive replacement. 

But that projection in late March is based on across-the-board health, which never happens in a 162-game season. World Series MVP Ben Zobrist (stiff neck) hasn't played in a Cactus League game in almost a week. All-Star shortstop Addison Russell (stiff back) became a late scratch to Friday's lineup at Sloan Park.

After trying to make a diving catch in center field, Albert Almora Jr. exited in the third inning of a 4-2 loss to the Cleveland Indians with what the Cubs called "left neck tightness," though he still plans to play in Las Vegas this weekend.  

On the other side of the spring-training complex in Mesa – away from the crowd of 15,473 in a minor-league game against a Colorado Rockies squad – the Cubs did get a positive piece of news on the health front: Kyle Schwarber went four innings behind the plate, going Tony Pena style and trying to reduce the stress on his body.

"I love catching," Schwarber said. "Whenever I played baseball, I was always a catcher. For me to be able to do that today – and feel pretty good about myself walking away from the day – it was a good step."

This is clearly important to Schwarber, an intensely driven personality who doesn't want to hear "no." Otherwise, the Cubs probably would have shut this down already, not wanting to risk it with a franchise player, someone who might blast 35 homers at the top of their lineup.

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But the medical staff cleared Schwarber when pitchers and catchers reported to Arizona – 10 months after he underwent surgery on his left knee to reconstruct his ACL and repair his LCL – and it could become a valuable skill again. 

"The most difficult part I would probably say was setup-wise," Schwarber said, "trying to find that timing of your moves and everything like that. Sometimes I felt like I was a little late getting my setup. But that all came. It's been a year since I got behind there, so overall everything went really well."

The Cubs already have one of the best young catchers in the game (Willson Contreras) and a two-time All-Star making $14 million this season backing him up (Miguel Montero). Schwarber doesn't want to put a number on how many starts he might make behind the plate, though the Cubs have framed it as in case of emergency, an extra late-inning option for manager Joe Maddon or maybe something that makes sense with a particular matchup. 

"As of right now, it's still the third-catcher role," Schwarber said. "I'm down for whatever, but I know the majority of the time is going to be out there in left."

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Mark Sanchez officially signs with Bears

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Mark Sanchez officially signs with Bears

On the latest edition of the SportsTalk Live Podcast, Chris Emma, Seth Gruen and Danny Ecker join David Kaplan to discuss the Mark Sanchez signing. Does this mean the Bears won't draft a quarterback in the 2017 NFL Draft? 

Later, the White Sox named Jose Quintana their Opening Day starter, but lose Carlos Rodon and Todd Frazier to injuries. 

Finally, Robin Lopez is back after serving a one-game suspension. The panel looks at the Bulls matchup against the Philadelphia 76ers. 

Listen to the SportsTalk Live Podcast below.