I was born on Oct. 17, 1977 into a baseball family. The day after my birth, Reggie Jackson hit three home runs in Game 6 of the World Series. Before Jackson accomplished the feat, Babe Ruth was the only player to do it, and he did it twice. Ruth first accomplished the three homer game in Game 4 of the 1926 series and then did it again in Game 4 of the 1928 series. It would be 49 years before Jackson joined Ruth in such a magical accomplishment on baseball’s grandest stage.
Being only a day old, I have no memory of Jackson’s heroics that night. It would take 34 years, but I do remember where I was the next time it happened.
After 8 years in active duty and 3 years in the reserves, I was participating in my final US Navy drill weekend on Oct. 22, 2011. That night, I was watching the Cardinals play Texas during Game 3 of the World Series when Albert Pujols had a night to remember. Pujols hit three home runs as the Cardinals went on to beat Texas 16-7.
Now, one year later I have seen it happen again when Pablo Sandoval hit three home runs in his first three at bats during Game 1 of the 2012 World Series. What makes Sadonval’s home runs even more impressive to me are that the first two came off one of the greatest pitchers in baseball today, Justin Verlander.
Verlander came into Game 1 as the reigning AL Cy Young and MVP winner and having dominated during the playoffs. But on this night, Sandoval was better.
Sandoval hit a solo shot off Verlander in the first inning. Then in the third inning, Sandoval hit his second home run of the game to centerfield. This time it was a two-run shot off of Verlander.
That Verlander did not come back out for the fifth inning didn’t faze Sandoval. Sandoval, known affectionately as Kung Fu Panda, joined history when he hit his third blast of the game. This time the home run came off of Al Alburquerque.
It wasn’t until disgraced Tigers closer Jose Valverde came into the game that Sandoval was finally kept inside the park and limited to a single.
What separates Sandoval’s performance from the rest is that neither the Yankees nor the Cardinals were involved in the World Series when the home runs were hit.
Ruth played for the Yankees when he had both of his three homer games. Against the Cardinals in 1926, he hit his blasts in the 1st, 3rd and 6th innings and finished that game 3-for-3 with four runs scored and four runs batted in. Two years later when Ruth did it again, the Yankees were again playing the Cardinals. This time Ruth’s homers came 4th, 7th, and 8th innings. Ruth finished that game 3-for-5 with three runs scored and three RBIs.
Also playing for the Yankees, Jackson’s three homers came on three consecutive swings in the 4th, 5th, and 8th innings. Jackson finished the night 3-for-3 with four runs scored and 5 RBIs.
When Pujols hit his three shots, he became the first non-Yankee to accomplish the feat. But since Ruth did it twice against the Cardinals, seeing three home runs by one player in a World Series game was not new to St. Louis.
And like Ruth’s second time accomplishing the feat and when Jackson did it, Pujols’ home runs came in the later innings, the 6th, 7th, and 9th innings to be specific.
None of the previous four times it was done did the player have a chance to swing for a fourth home run, but that changed with Sandoval as his home runs came in the 1st, 3rd, and 5th innings. In his fourth at bat of the game, in the 7th inning, Sandoval singled. Sandoval did not get another at bat but still finished 4-for-4 with three runs scored and 4 RBIs.
Just like a year ago with Pujols, I won’t soon forget where I was when the Panda battered the Tigers.
The Tigers might have come into the World Series rested and ready, but after Game 1, the momentum belongs to San Francisco.