Two nights after Detroit Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander took a no-hitter into the seventh inning of ALDS Game 5, teammate Anibal Sanchez brought his no-hit stuff Saturday night to Game 1 of the ALCS against the Boston Red Sox.
Sanchez proved to be both filthy and erratic, good enough to hold the Red Sox hitless through six innings, but teetering on collapse to the point where he didn't come back for the seventh. Sure, he had struck out 12 and put all those zeros on the scoreboard, but Sanchez had also walked six batters and thrown 116 pitches. Those last two numbers aren't exactly a formula for throwing a nine-inning no-hitter.
After getting the hook from Tigers manager Jim Leyland, Sanchez became the first pitcher to ever be pulled from a postseason game without giving up a hit after six innings, according to ESPN Stats and Info. Clinging to only a 1-0 lead, the no-hitter wasn't as important to the Tigers as winning the game or preserving Sanchez for the rest of the playoffs.
Then attention turned to the Tigers bullpen, which had a chance to complete the third no-hitter in MLB postseason history and become the co-authors of first combined playoff no-no.
But they fell two outs short. Boston's Daniel Nava singled off Detroit closer Joaquin Benoit with one out in the ninth inning. Benoit then got the next two outs to close out the Tigers' 1-0 win, which also gave them a 1-0 series lead.
Despite his high pitch count and all the walks, Sanchez avoided disaster by getting outs when he needed them most. For example: He struck out Stephen Drew with the bases loaded and two outs in the sixth after issuing three walks earlier in the inning.
The bullpen was up and ready during that tense at-bat, and Sanchez didn't have any rope left with the Tigers coaching staff. That was his last batter. No-hitter or not, the Tigers thought the bullpen gave them a better chance to protect their 1-0 lead.
They were probably right, given the way the game turned out. It would have been most improbable for Sanchez to hold on to a 1-0 lead given his pitch count and fatigue.
"The most important thing is the win," Sanchez said after the game.
He also said he was mostly trying to pitch to the corners Saturday night, not wanting to leave anything over the middle of the plate for the Red Sox's big hitters. That, he said, accounted for all the walks. Boston had the second most hits in baseball in the regular season. The only team that had more hits than the Red Sox this season? That would be the Tigers.
But it was Detroit's pitching, not its offense, that will be remembered from Game 1. Their 17 total strikeouts tied a postseason record for a nine-inning game. And to come within two outs of baseball's third all-time postseason no-hitter is no small feat. The other two were thrown by Don Larsen in 1956 and Roy Halladay in 2010.
Sanchez's unusual no-hit effort is reminiscent of an Erik Bedard start in July. He pitched 6 1/3 no-hit innings for the Houston Astros, but was taken out after five walks and 111 pitches. That one was even more odd, because Bedard took the loss. Saturday's result turned out better for both Sanchez and the Tigers.
Had the Tigers held on to the no-hitter, it would have been the second that Sanchez was involved with. He threw a no-hitter as a rookie with the Marlins in 2006. He also took a no-hitter into the ninth inning in April 2011, and he threw a one-hitter in September of that same year.