Babe Ruth. Reggie Jackson. Albert Pujols. And now, Pablo Sandoval. The Panda joined those legendary sluggers last night by hitting three home runs in a World Series game, hacking the Giants to an 8-3 win over the Tigers in Game 1.
Sandoval punched two 95 MPH fastballs from Justin Verlander over the fence, chasing an 0-2 pitch high out of the strike zone in the first inning for a 421 foot center field shot and then going the opposite way in the third frame when the reigning AL Cy Young and MVP tried to hit the outside corner. In the fifth, Sandoval clubbed an Al Alburquerque slider 435 feet to center.
Location of Sandoval's HR in Game 1
Sandoval has now gone deep six times during the postseason, and four of those shots have come on pitches thrown outside of the strike zone. The Panda has long been a free swinger, chasing the third-highest rate of pitches (41.7%) during the regular season. But he has expanded his already Bay-sized zone in October, chasing half of pitches thrown off the plate. That is, by far, the highest mark among hitters with at least 30 plate appearances during the playoffs:
Highest Chase Rate in 2012 Playoffs
Sandoval's three homers last night came on two of the game's toughest pitches. Verlander limited batters to a .389 fastball slugging percentage during the regular season, sixth-lowest among AL starting pitchers. Alburquerque held hitters to a .094 slugging percentage on his slider, fifth-lowest among AL relievers.
If Sandoval goes deep twice more during the World Series, he will tie Barry Bonds, Nelson Cruz and Carlos Beltran for the most homers ever hit during a single postseason. Pitchers beware: ball or strike, Sandoval's coming up swinging.