Each of the Detroit Tigers’ starting pitchers has contributed a solid performance through the first four games of the AL championship series, but Anibal Sanchez was unhittable - literally - in Game 1.
After manager Jim Leyland’s lineup adjustment helped the Tigers even their series with the Boston Red Sox at two games apiece, Sanchez opposes Jon Lester in crucial Game 5 on Thursday night at Comerica Park.
Doug Fister was the latest Detroit starter to slow Boston’s lineup, giving up one run and striking out seven in six innings of a 7-3 win in Game 4 on Wednesday.
The Tigers’ starting pitching has allowed three runs while striking out 42 in 27 innings in the series. The Red Sox had 12 hits in Game 4 as Jacoby Ellsbury went 4 for 5 with an RBI triple, but they finished 2 for 16 with runners in scoring position.
“The one thing when we’ve been in stretches like this, we continually do a very good job of creating opportunities,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said. “We did that (Wednesday). We haven’t done it so much in the first three games. But that’s a tip of the hat to the pitching that we’ve been facing.”
After falling 1-0 in Game 3, Leyland dropped leadoff hitter Austin Jackson to eighth in the batting order for Game 4 and moved most everyone up one spot. Torii Hunter led off and had a two-run double, Miguel Cabrera went 2 for 4 with two RBIs batting second, and Jackson went 2 for 2, walked twice and drove in a pair of runs.
The center fielder entered the contest hitting .091 in the playoffs.
“I think it just helped me relax,” Jackson said. “That was the goal. To get me to relax a little, be patient get a good pitch and let the rest take care of itself.”
Hunter believes the change sparked an offense that scored six run in the previous three games combined.
“That was pretty good. (Leyland) switched things up, kinda shake it up a little bit,” Hunter said. “It gave us a different mindset. Miggy hitting second, me leading off. It gave us a different mindset to make things happen.”
Detroit will look to provide more support than it did for Sanchez in a 1-0 victory in Game 1. Sanchez (1-1, 4.35 ERA) pitched six innings of no-hit ball and struck out 12 while earning the win, and the Red Sox didn’t get their first hit until one out in the bottom of the ninth.
David Ortiz who hit a tying grand slam in Boston’s Game 2 victory, was 3 for 3 with two homers in his career off Sanchez before going 0 for 3 against him in Game 1.
“My pitches were moving really good that day,” Sanchez said. “I was ahead in some counts, that helped me striking them out. That was the key. That helped me that day.”
The right-hander also was erratic at times and walked six, becoming the first starting pitcher to record 12 strikeouts and six walks in a playoff game since Walter Johnson did so in 12 innings for the Washington Senators against the New York Giants in Game 1 of the 1924 World Series.
“His stuff, at times, is probably some of the nastiest stuff we have on the team,” catcher Alex Avila said. “He was erratic, but he was still able to make big pitches. That’s what makes him so good - he’s very unpredictable. He throws stuff in counts a hitter wouldn’t normally see, just to keep them off balance.”
Lester (1-1, 1.93) was pretty sharp himself in that contest, giving up one run and six hits in 6 1-3 innings. The only run he allowed came off a bloop single by Jhonny Peralta in the sixth.
“These guys are smart hitters, they know how I’ve gotten them out in the past and they know how they’ve gotten hits in the past,” Lester said. “You have to take somewhere in the middle and adjust off that.”
Cabrera is 11 for 21 with a homer, two doubles and six walks in his career off Lester, including the postseason.