DETROIT — Anibal Sanchez was 21 when the Red Sox promoted him to Double A Portland in 2005. He joined what proved to be a special group of players, sharing Hadlock Field with Jon Lester, Dustin Pedroia, Jonathan Papelbon, and Hanley Ramirez.
A slightly built righthander from Venezuela, Sanchez had a 3.45 earned run average in 11 starts for the Sea Dogs, pitching so well that scouts from other teams took notice.
When the Red Sox traded for Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell that November, Sanchez was sent to the Marlins along with Ramirez and two other prospects.
Sanchez made his major league debut in 2006. The Red Sox, led by Lowell and Beckett, won the World Series in 2007.
“That’s part of the game, part of the business,” Sanchez said.
Sanchez will pitch in the biggest game of his career on Saturday when he starts Game 3 of the World Series for the Detroit Tigers against the San Francisco Giants.
With the Tigers down, 2-0, in the series, Sanchez bears the responsibility of keeping his team viable.
“I know we’re down but that’s in the past,” he said on Friday. “I think at this moment every day we start over. We need to forget what happened in San Francisco. I know we’ve got the talent, that’s why we’re here.”
A trade took Sanchez away from the possibility of playing in the World Series earlier in his career. Another trade helped put him in one. The Marlins, their season in shambles, traded Sanchez to the Tigers on July 23 for three prospects. The teams also swapped compensation draft picks.
Sanchez was 4-6 with a 3.74 ERA in 12 starts for the Tigers. He has pitched exceptionally in the postseason, allowing two earned runs over 13⅓ innings in two starts and striking out 10.
Sanchez is 3-1 with a 1.98 ERA in five career starts against the Giants. Two of those came this season. Sanchez allowed one run over seven innings against San Francisco on May 3 at AT&T Park. He was not as effective in Miami on May 24, allowing five runs over 5⅓ innings.
“He’s been tough on us. He has good stuff,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. “He’s got a good fastball and secondary pitches. He’ll throw any pitch at any time. We’ve had our tough times against him.”
Tigers manager Jim Leyland resisted the idea of moving up Game 4 starter Max Scherzer.
“Sanchez has really gotten acclimated here in Detroit,” Leyland said. “I expect him to pitch a good game. They key is we’re going to have to get some runs on the board, obviously. But I think Sanchez will be fine.
“I think once he got acclimated here with his new teammates, new manager, new pitching coach, the Detroit scene, I think he’s done very, very well.”
Tigers catcher Alex Avila said Sanchez is unique in that he truly has the same level of confidence in all of his pitches.
“A lot of times with certain guys, I can’t do that,” Avila said. “If we’re behind I’ve got to go with a certain pitch. If we’re ahead, I’ve got to go with a certain pitch. With him that’s not the case and that took some getting used to.”
The Tigers have scored three runs on 10 hits in the first two games of the series and on Saturday will face righthander Ryan Vogelsong. All he has done this postseason is pitch 19 innings and allow three earned runs over three starts. Giants ace Matt Cain is set for Game 4 on Sunday.
The last eight teams to take a 2-0 lead in the World Series have gone on to win it. The 1996 Braves were the last team to blow a 2-0 advantage, losing four straight to the Yankees.
Sanchez remembers having a good season in 2005 and the shock of being traded for the first time.
“I saw my goal [of reaching the majors] really close and at this point I started working more hard,” he said.
Sanchez will be a free agent after this season, and at 28 he will stand out in a thin crop of available starters. Sanchez has a career ERA of 3.75 and has made at least 31 starts in each of the last three years. Shoulder and elbow injuries that required surgery earlier in his career have been overcome.
Even his wife, Ana, has reminded him that teams will be coming after him. The couple had their first child, a daughter, earlier this month.
Now comes his first start in the World Series.
“I think everybody is going to be relaxed,” Sanchez said. “We know we are home; we know we play really good here. We’re going to keep doing the same. They won at home, we need to win at home.”