Anibal Sanchez and four Detroit relievers limited the Red Sox a lone ninth-inning hit, and the Tigers claimed Game 1 of the American League Championship Series with a 1-0 victory at Fenway Park Saturday night.
Daniel Nava's single with one out in the ninth was the Red Sox's only hit of the game.
Sanchez, the American League's ERA champion during the regular season, was overpowering if occasionally erratic. He struck out 12 without allowing a hit through six innings, but he walked six and was pulled before the seventh after 116 pitches.
Al Alburquerque, Jose Veras, Drew Smyly and Joaquin Benoit combined on the shutout, striking out 17 Red Sox hitters, tying a postseason record for a nine-inning game. Benoit gave up Nava's hit, but earned the save, getting Xander Bogaerts to pop up to shortstop to end it with pinch-runner Quintin Berry on second base.
The Tigers scored the game's lone run in the sixth inning. Jhonny Peralta, inserted into the lineup in left field by manager Jim Leyland because of his valuable bat, had three hits, including an RBI single to score Miguel Cabrera.
Top of the ninth inning The ninth inning is usual time for a Koji Uehara save. Tonight, it was time for him to hold down the fort and keep a deficit to one.
He did the job, striking out the side, but it wasn't without some drama.
Jose Iglesias led off with a single. After Austin Jackson struck out, Torii Hunter doubled to left, putting runners on second and third. But Uehara found the form that was so effective all summer, striking out Don Kelly, then getting Prince Fielder to hit a flare to center that shortstop Stephen Drew tracked down, making a tough over-the-shoulder grab while juggling the ball for a split-second in his glove.
End of the eighth, Tigers 1, Red Sox 0: The Tigers are three outs away from the first combined no-hitter in postseason history.
Jose Veras, the third Tigers pitcher, retired the two batters he faced, striking out Shane Victorino swinging and Dustin Pedroia looking. He then departed for lefty Drew Smyly, who retired David Ortiz on a fly ball to center.
It should be noted that the Red Sox have grown increasingly frustrated with home plate umpire Joe West and his inconsistent strike zone. Victorino began talking to him animatedly before digging into the batter's box, and Pedroia didn't hide his frustration after he was called out on strikes on fastball that appeared to catch the outside corner.
In the top half, Craig Breslow pitched through some self-inflicted trouble and escapes unscathed.
After sandwiching pair of fly outs around a Prince Fielder walk, Peralta hit a ground-rule double -- his third hit of the game -- moving Fielder to third. Infante was intentionally walked, and the strategy paid off when Avila flew deep to right.
Sox down to their last six outs. Jose Veras in for the Tigers.
End of the seventh, Tigers 1, Red Sox 0: The pitcher has changed, but the zero remains in the hit column for the Red Sox.
Al Alburquerque took over for Sanchez in the seventh and picked up with the Tigers starter left off. Alburquerque retired pinch-hitters Mike Carp (grounder to short) and Jarrod Saltalamacchia (strikeout looking), then struck out Jacoby Ellsbury swinging. Ellsbury thought he had worked a walk on the previous pitch, but umpire Joe West called it a strike.
As for Sanchez, his night ended with a remarkable line: 6 innings, 116 pitches, 6 walks, 12 strikeouts, no hits, no runs.
Lester's night is over, too. After retiring Alex Avila on a liner to third to start the seventh, he hit Jose Iglesias, prompting John Farrell to remove him from the game after 109 pitches. Lester's final line: 6.1 innings, 6 hits, 1 earned run, a walk and four strikeouts.
Junichi Tazawa took over for Lester and retired Torii Hunter and Austin Jackson (on a deep fly to Victorino in right).
Al Alburquerque coming in for the seventh for Detroit. The no-hitter is still intact, but the pitcher throwing it is no longer in the game.
End of the sixth, Tigers 1, Red Sox 0: The Red Sox still don't have a hit. What they do have is their biggest lost opportunity of the night so far.
Victorino led off by dropping a bunt down the first-base line, where he was tagged/bear-hugged from Prince Fielder. Dustin Pedroia walked, then moved up to second on a wild pitch. Sanchez struck out David Ortiz on a curveball in the dirt -- his 11th strikeout -- but Mike Napoli and Daniel Nava followed with consecutive walks.
That left it up to Stephen Drew. The Tigers had lefty Drew Smyly warming up in the bullpen, but stuck with the righty Sanchez. It proved the right move, for the Sox shortstop couldn't deliver, swinging and missing at strike three while Sanchez pumped his fist in celebration.
Will Sanchez return for the seventh? He's thrown 116 pitches.
In the top of the inning, one swing, Jhonny Peralta justified Jim Leyland's decision to play him in left field in order to get his bat in the lineup.
Peralta flipped a Lester pitch into center field, scoring Miguel Cabrera from third and giving the Tigers the first run of the ballgame with two outs in the sixth.
Cabrera had reached on a one-out walk, moved to second when Prince Fielder was hit by a pitch, and moved to third on Victor Martinez's 6-4 force play in which he was called safe on a bang-bang play at first.
Lester avoided further damage by getting Infante to ground to third.
End of the fifth, Tigers 0, Red Sox 0: What an exceptional -- and exceptionally weird -- performance by Sanchez so far.
He's struck out 10. He hasn't allowed a hit. He's walked three, which isn't a terrible amount. Yet it's taken him 88 pitches to get through five innings after retiring Middlebrooks, Ross, and Ellsbury (his 10th K) in the last half-inning.
In case you're wondering, Sanchez's season-high for pitches is 130, set in a 6-0 complete-game shutout of Minnesota May 24. He allowed one hit and struck out 12 in that start. During his 17-strikeout game against Atlanta April 26, he threw 125 pitches in eight innings.
In the top half, Lester ran into the first jam either pitcher has faced tonight, and he escapes without permitting the Tigers to score the first run.
Jhonny Peralta led off with a double, but was erased on a heady fielder's choice by Mike Napoli, who fielded Alex Infante's grounder and threw to Drew to cut down the lead runner at third.
Alex Avila followed with a soft single to right field, and Infante headed for third after a rare defensive miscue by Victorino, who juggled the ball upon fielding it.
That brought up Jose Iglesias, the light-hitting shortstop who had an unexpected stretch of torrid hitting earlier this season for the Red Sox before being dealt to Detroit in July for Jake Peavy.
Iglesias hit a hard shot to third on a Lester curveball, but Will Middlebrooks fielded it on the backhand and threw to home to get Infante by a couple of steps. Jackson followed with a hard-hit drive to right, but Victorino retreated to make the catch in front of the warning track.
Still 0-0. And the Red Sox have a zero in that other category as well.
End of the fourth, Tigers 0, Red Sox 0: Sanchez continues to avoid the Red Sox bats, boosting his strikeout total to nine through four innings. He got the side this time around, sandwiching a Daniel Nava whiff looking around a pair of swinging strikeouts by Mike Napoli and Stephen Drew.
Thus far, Jon Lester has matched him zero for zero, retiring the heart of the Tigers' order on a Cabrera groundout, a Fielder grounder to second, and a Martinez pop to right field.
End of the third, Tigers 0, Red Sox 0: Sanchez gets the easy inning he needs, retiring Victorino, Pedroia, and Ortiz on 10 pitches.
The Red Sox continue to have issues with home plate umpire Joe West, who called out Victorino on a low inside pitch for the second out of the inning.
Victorino disagreed in a manner that might have led Fox television to mute its microphones if it had received ample warning.
Meanwhile, it was also another relatively quick inning for Lester, who needed 12 pitches to get through the frame.
No. 9 hitter Jose Iglesias popped to shallow right (how did the Red Sox know he'd hit it there?). Leadoff hitter Austin Jackson, who struck out in 14 of his previous 21 at-bats this postseason, singled to right. But Torii Hunter grounded into a tailor-made double play to shortstop Stephen Drew to end the innings.
End of the second, Tigers 0, Red Sox 0: The Red Sox still are looking for their first hit. In fact, Will Middlebrook's one-out fly ball to left was the first time they put in a ball in play tonight against Sanchez.
Still, they managed to put together a threat against Sanchez. After Daniel Nava struck out, Stephen Drew walked. One out later, No. 9 hitter David Ross pushed Drew to second with another walk.
But the Red Sox couldn't take advantage. Jacoby Ellsbury, who hit .500 in the ALDS, hit a liner toward Tigers shortstop Jose Iglesias. Iglesias knocked it down, then moved toward second before firing to first to get Ellsbury by a half-step.
Sanchez has now thrown 51 pitches through two innings. Have we mentioned that the Red Sox have a knack for grinding out at-bats?
In the top half, Lester breezed through the Tigers' Nos. 6-8 hitters, getting Jhonny Peralta to ground out to third before striking out Omar Infante (swinging) and Alex Avila (looking).
Lester has thrown 33 pitches -- 24 strikes -- through two innings. It took Sanchez 26 pitches to get through the first.
End of first, Tigers 0, Red Sox 0: A half-inning into his start, and Anibal Sanchez already has a place in postseason history.
The Tigers starter struck out four batters -- No. 2 hitter Shane Victorino reached base after strike three eluded catcher Alex Avila. He is just the second pitcher in playoff history to strike out four batters in an inning. The first, Orval Overall, accomplished the feat in Game 5 of the 1908 World Series while pitching for the Cubs.
The inning wasn't without controversy. With Victorino on second and Dustin Pedroia (walk) on first, David Ortiz worked the count to 3-1. Home plate umpire Joe West called a strike on a checked swing for strike two, causing Ortiz to bark in frustration. He was downright angry after the next pitch, in which third base ump Alfonso Marquez called him out on another checked swing. Both appeared to be the correct call.
Sanchez then struck out Mike Napoli to end the inning.
If anyone remained skeptical about how much an injured hamstring is affecting Miguel Cabrera, they no longer are after the top of the first.
Red Sox starter struck out the first two hitters he faced, Austin Jackson and Torii Hunter. That brought up Cabrera, the front-runner for the AL MVP.
After flicking a long drive down the right field line that nearly detoured around the Pesky Pole, he lined a hard liner to the wall in left.
It looked like a sure double when Daniel Nava had trouble tracking down the carom, but Cabrera, limping, barely rounded first base before heading back to the bag. Then, on Prince Fielder's hard single to center, he pulled up at second, then hopped on one leg in obvious pain as Jacoby Ellsbury returned the ball to the infield. It's amazing he can hit at all given his obvious health issues.
Lester escaped the jam when he get Victor Martinez to ground to shortstop Stephen Drew on a 3-2 pitch.
Pregame: Welcome to misty, cool Fenway Park, where the Red Sox host the Tigers in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series. Nomar Garciaparra is throwing out the first pitch, while Jon Lester will throw the meaningful pitches for the Red Sox. Anibal Sanchez, Lester's former teammate in the Red Sox farm system, gets the start for the Tigers.
There are no major surprises in either lineup, but there are a couple of interesting ones. David Ross does get the start behind the plate in place of Jarrod Saltalamacchia for the Red Sox. And Jhonny Peralta, who has played all of four games in the outfield in his big league career, gets the start in left for Detroit.
Tigers manager Jim Leyland bristled when asked whether Peralta would have trouble playing the wall, particularly when it comes to quirks such as the ladder that caused Rays outfielders problems in Game 1 of the ALDS.
"We're not making too big a deal out of that,'' Leyland said. "Everyone is making a big deal out of it. Heard somebody talking about the ladder. Carl Yastrzemski who played the ladder, he was one hell of a man. When it hits that ladder, I don't think any Red Sox, Tiger, Kansas City Royal or anyone else knows where it's going.
"It is a little tricky to play the wall. And the Red Sox do that better because they're used to it. As far as getting carried away, talking about the ladder, that's ridiculous, nobody knows what it's going to do when it hits that thing. Just do the best you can with it."
Nomar Garciaparra threw out the first pitch to Jarrod Saltalamacchia. … Dr. Elizabeth Mitchell, who helped triage patients at the finish line and at Boston Medical Center after the Marathon bombings, sang the National Anthem. … The Red Sox handed out red towels with the “B Strong” logo to fans entering the park.
Lester has taken the mound. Game-time temperature: 55 degrees. Time to play ball. Stay right here for updates throughout the game.