Detroit Tigers starter Anibal Sanchez didn't have the easiest first inning in Saturday's Game 1 of the ALCS, but he did manage to do something baseball hasn't seen in more than 100 years.
Sanchez struck out four Boston Red Sox batters in the first inning, becoming the first pitcher to achieve the rare four-strikeout inning in the postseason since 1908. That's when the wonderfully named Orval Overall did it for the Chicago Cubs in the World Series.
In fact, Overall had his four-strikeout inning — as the New York Times' Tyler Kepner points out — in the Cubs' World Series-clinching game. So, as the saying goes, the last time someone did what Sanchez did, the Cubs won the World Series. Only this isn't hyperbole.
Sanchez struck out leadoff batter Jacoby Ellsbury in the bottom of the first. Then he struck out Shane Victorino, but the third strike was a wild pitch. Victorino took off for first base and was safe. This is where things got tough for Sanchez. Victorino stole second, then Dustin Pedroia drew a walk.
David Ortiz came up to bat with two on and one out. Sanchez wasn't thinking about history. He was hoping to get out of a jam. And he did. He struck out Ortiz, thanks to two check-swings that umpires called strikes. Big Papi was Big Angry after that — but he was also strikeout number three. Then Mike Napoli, who had the fourth-most Ks in MLB this season, struck out swinging to end the inning.
Two other pitchers struck out four in an inning this season. Alex Cobb did it in May and Tony Cingrani did it in April. But only three players — a group that now includes Sanchez — have done it in the postseason.
History aside: Sanchez's four strikeouts took 26 pitches. He was at 51 pitches after two innings. He kept striking out Boston hitters and he kept them hitless, but he eventually had to leave the game after throwing 116 pitches in six innings. And he still hadn't allowed a hit.
The Tigers bullpen, which had the seventh-worst ERA in baseball during the regular season, kept the Red Sox hitless until the ninth inning.