Cubs

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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A Hobbled Hero: Baez, Cubs keep finding wild ways to win

A Hobbled Hero: Baez, Cubs keep finding wild ways to win

Javy Baez has only seen one pitch in the Cubs-Phillies series, but that's all he needs to make a major impact.

"El Mago" notched his first walk-off RBI since May 8, 2016 in the bottom of the ninth inning Tuesday night, lacing the only pitch he saw from Juan Nicasio down the right-field line. Baez had missed the entire series to that point due to a heel injury he suffered Sunday in Washington D.C. and actually underwent an MRI before Tuesday's game to make sure there was no other damage.

Baez's single put the finishing touches on the Cubs' first win this season when trailing after eight innings. They now lead the majors with five walk-off victories.

After another blown lead by the bullpen (the third in the last week), the Cubs entered the bottom of the ninth down 2-1, but Kris Bryant led off with a walk and then Anthony Rizzo doubled. After a Willson Contreras flyout, Jason Heyward was intentionally walked and then Albert Almora Jr. hit a tapper in front of home plate that Bryant just barely beat out at home to tie the game.

Then came Baez, as Joe Maddon opted to go to the hobbled star in place of Daniel Descalso, who was 0-for-4 on the evening to that point.

Prior to the ninth inning, Maddon wasn't sure if Baez would even be available to pinch hit in the game, but trainer P.J. Mainville taped up Javy's foot/ankle at the start of the inning and gave the Cubs skipper the all-clear.

"Just give PJ some credit on the tape job," Maddon joked. "This is right out of the Lombardi era kind of stuff. Tape and aspirin — go ahead and play. That's what everybody's football coach said."

If Baez hadn't delivered the walk-off hit and the Cubs wound up in extra innings, Maddon said he didn't know if Baez would be able to even play the field on his injured heel and the only player left on the bench was backup catcher Victor Caratini.

"In moments like that, you can only think it so far," Maddon said. "And then at some point, you gotta throw it at the wall and see what happens."

Maddon doesn't know if Baez will be able to play Wednesday night, but plans to make two lineups and then check with the shortstop to see about his status when he arrives at the field.

Baez's Cubs teammates are no longer surprised at the ridiculous things he does or how easy he makes some very difficult tasks look. Bryant joked he was actually upset Baez didn't hit it over the fence for a walk-off grand slam.

"I don't even know what's going on with him half the time anyway," Bryant said. "It's like, 'oh, Javy's pinch-hitting. And then I was debating like, 'don't swing at the first pitch," but I was like, 'no, it's Javy.' 

"It was awesome. He just like goes up there and swings the bat. If he didn't have to run to first base, he wouldn't. It's just like, 'I'm so good, I'm just gonna get this hit and then we're gonna go home.'"

However awe-inspiring Baez's Kirk Gibson impression was, the only reason the Cubs were even in the spot to win the game at that moment was because of the hustle and aggressive baserunning from Bryant. 

His game-tying run on Almora's tapper in front of the plate was huge, but his first trip around the bases was even more impressive. 

With Bryant on second base and Rizzo on first in the first inning, both runners were off on the full-count pitch to Contreras, who hit a routine grounder to Phillies shortstop Jean Segura. As Segura made the throw to first to retire Contreras, Bryant never hesitated around third base and scored on some heads-up, aggressive baserunning that looked like a page right out of the El Mago Playbook.

Bryant said as he was running, he thought about what it's like to play the left side of the infield on such a routine play and felt like he could catch the Phillies by surprise.

"I saw [third base coach Brian Butterfield] holding me up, too, and I just kept going," Bryant said. "I almost felt like I had eyes in the back of my head. It was kind of like one of those experiences that it's hard to explain, but I just kept going."

That run was all Jose Quintana and the Cubs needed for six innings, until Carl Edwards Jr. came on in relief for the seventh. Edwards allowed a leadoff single and then a double two batters later, giving way to Brandon Kintzler with two outs.

Kintzler gave up a groundball single up the middle to Andrew McCutchen and just like that, the Cubs' thin 1-0 lead had evaporated in the blink of an eye. And with the offensive issues (they were 0-for-10 with runners in scoring position before Baez's hit), that looked to be enough to send the Cubs to their second straight defeat in frustrating fashion.

But the magic of El Mago and Bryant allowed the Cubs to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat and send fans home happy and with a little more belief that this just might be a special summer on Chicago's North Side.

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White Sox get lesson in why they need their own Justin Verlander type to finish off rebuild

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USA TODAY

White Sox get lesson in why they need their own Justin Verlander type to finish off rebuild

Who will be the White Sox version of Justin Verlander? Their version of Jon Lester?

The big-name veteran brought in from outside the organization to be the cherry on top of a rebuilding effort and push things into contention mode. Who will Rick Hahn & Co. bring in to play that role on the South Side?

The White Sox got a firsthand lesson in why such a player is a necessity, dominated in every sense by Verlander on Tuesday night in Houston. Verlander, who long tormented the White Sox when he played for the division-rival Tigers, took a no-hit bid into the seventh inning and finished with one run, one hit and one walk allowed in eight dazzling frames. Jose Abreu's solo homer that broke up the no-hitter in the seventh was the one moment on the evening in which Verlander looked human.

That's the kind of thing Verlander's been doing since the Astros traded for him during the 2017 season, which ended with them winning the World Series. They might do it again this year, the best team in baseball halfway through this four-game series against the White Sox. And he's a big reason they've stayed atop the list of championship contenders the last two years.

Verlander's acquisition was a little different than that of Lester on the North Side of Chicago. The Cubs needed to inject some legitimacy into their rebuilding project and got it by giving Lester, who knew Theo Epstein and his front office from the Boston days, a ton of money to top their rotation. The Astros needed a similar push from one of the game's best pitchers, and they got it by trading for Verlander in a waiver deal with the Tigers. But Verlander accomplished the same goal for the Astros that Lester did for the Cubs. Even in 2019, they're two of the more reliable arms around.

The White Sox might not be ready to vault into contention mode on Day 1 of the 2020 season. Michael Kopech's next start will be just his fifth as a big leaguer. Dylan Cease won't have much more than a month or two of big league experience. Eloy Jimenez has already missed a month of developmental time. Luis Robert will likely be getting his first taste of the majors.

But adding a Verlander type to that group could make a huge difference.

Now, Verlander is one of the best pitchers ever, plain and simple, a first-ballot Hall of Famer. To suggest that kind of pitcher will be available this offseason is perhaps unrealistic. Verlander was set to be among a loaded free-agent class before he signed an extension to stay with the Astros. He wasn't alone, and that thought-to-be-loaded free-agent class is now significantly less loaded. But there are still options, and perhaps more than ever a trade looks like it might be the way to go. If the White Sox do have a top-of-the-rotation starting pitcher on their wish list, Verlander's teammate and Wednesday night's scheduled starter, Gerrit Cole, is on track to be among the available free agents.

So, too, is Madison Bumgarner, who more closely fits the mold of accomplished guys like Verlander and Lester. Bumgarner's got an unparalleled amount of postseason success, but he comes with plenty of questions, too. He pitched in just 38 combined games in 2017 and 2018, and while longevity hasn't been an issue this season — he's failed to go six innings in only one of his 10 starts — effectiveness has been an issue. He's got a 4.21 ERA through 62 innings. His highest single-season ERA prior to 2019 was 3.37 in 2012.

It doesn't have to be Bumgarner. And maybe it doesn't even have to be a pitcher. The White Sox have a list of potential starting-pitching options that includes Kopech, Cease, Reynaldo Lopez, Lucas Giolito, Dane Dunning and others. The Cubs and Astros couldn't craft rotations of homegrown players. The White Sox might be able to, though considering the injuries that have plagued those young arms and the current lack of major league ready starting-pitching depth, a big-time starting-pitching addition would really fortify things.

It could also add that kind of legitimacy that Lester brought to the Cubs. Get one big name to come aboard a still-emerging group, and that could draw more talent that could really kick things into high gear.

There might be no one way to do a successful rebuild, but if the White Sox want to follow the template the Astros and Cubs have used to win championships in recent years, a Verlander type would be a good way to go about doing that. The opportunity has to exist, but you'd have to imagine it's an opportunity the front office will be looking for this winter.

Certainly they're already motivated to do just that. Watching Verlander cut through their lineup Tuesday night should back that motivation up.

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