Tigers win wild and crazy ALCS opener against Red Sox
Boston Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia reacts as he is called out on strikes during Game 1 of the American League Championship Series against the Detroit Tigers at Fenway Park. (Robert Deutsch/USA TODAY Sports)
It was one of the strangest, unorthodox pitching lines you’ll ever see but, for the Detroit Tigers, it was a thing of beauty.
With himself as his most dangerous enemy, Anibal Sanchez mesmerized the Boston Red Sox through six remarkable no-hit innings, then watched from the dugout as four Tigers relievers tried to shepherd it home.
The first three got the job done, but closer Joaquin Benoit was nicked for a one-out single by Daniel Nava in the ninth inning. He was, however, still able to hold things together to save the 1-0 Detroit victory in the opening game of the American League Championship Series Saturday at Fenway Park.
Sanchez, Al Alburquerque, Jose Veras and Drew Smyly had kept the no-no intact for eight innings but Nava’s one-out single to centre broke that up.
The last time an opponent threw a recognized no-hitter against the Red Sox at Fenway was Hall of Famer Jim Bunning, coincidentally of the Tigers, who tossed his gem on July 20, 1958.
Sanchez had such outstanding stuff that he could barely control it. He walked six batters and could not continue any longer than six because he had already thrown 116 pitches.
The real problem for Sanchez was managing the many walks, as well as two wild pitches, that cost him bases and baserunners. Never did he have to bow his neck more than in the sixth inning when he walked the bases full but got out of it with his 12th and last strikeout of the game, fanning Stephen Drew.
Detroit left fielder Jhonny Peralta was the only player in the game with more than one hit. He had two doubles and a single, including the one that drove in the only run of the game in the top of the sixth.
Peralta, who has just returned during the playoffs after being suspended for 50 games as a result of the Biogenesis scandal, was serenaded with a “steroid, steroid, steroid” chant all night.
Sanchez left the game with a most unusual string of numbers: Six innings, no hits, no runs, six walks, 12 strikeouts, two wild pitches. He threw 116 pitches, 66 of them strikes. Of those 116 pitches, the Red Sox, with perhaps the most potent offence in baseball, put just seven in play, none dangerously so.
Alburquerque had the unenviable task of following Sanchez and he did an outstanding job, taking out the Sox in order in the seventh with a pair of strikeouts himself. Veras struck out the only two men he faced and the lefty Smyly was tasked with getting David Ortiz to fly out harmlessly to centre.
Benoit struck out Mike Napoli to begin the ninth, then gave up the Nava single. He got Drew on a fly ball to right and then, with pinch-runner Quintin Berry on second base, Benoit ended the game with a pop-up off the bat of pinch-hitter Xander Bogaerts.
From the very start, this game had a weird vibe.
After Boston starter Jon Lester had gotten out of a two-on, two-out jam in the top of the first, Sanchez made a little bit of history in the bottom of the inning by striking out four batters. After Jacoby Ellsbury had fanned to start the inning, Shane Victorino swung at a third strike that bounced five feet in front of home plate and the ball skipped all the way to the backstop. Victorino was safe at first without a throw.
Ortiz and Napoli followed with strikeouts of their own and Sanchez had become the second man in MLB history to fan four in an inning in a playoff game. The first time it happened was 105 years ago when a Cub pitcher named Orval Overall did it.
Sanchez had electric stuff but he was wild. It wasn’t until the eighth Boston batter of the game, Will Middlebrooks, hit a line drive to left that any Red Sox player had put a ball in play. By then Sanchez had already walked two to go with his five strikeouts.
By the end of the second inning, he had already thrown 51 pitches. He struck out the side in the fouurth and by the time he got through the fifth, he had thrown 88 pitches.
In the top of the sixth the Tigers, who had been getting baserunners and then shooting themselves in the foot through the game, finally broke through. Peralta’s two-out single to centre with runners at first and third allowed Miguel Cabrera to stroll home from third.
The drama continued for Sanchez in the seventh and it would become a 28-pitch dalliance with disaster. With two outs, he walked the bases full, then engaged Drew with no where to put another runner. He struck Drew out with his 116th pitch of the night and danced off the mound with a massive fist pump.