The longer the night wore on, the more zeroes Anibal Sanchez saw.
But for a pitcher that led the American League in earned run average, the zeroes in the run column meant infinitely more than the one in the hit column, with the Tigers clutching a one-run lead as tightly as they could.
For six hitless innings, Sanchez turned the lights out on the Red Sox offense, hanging up 12 strikeouts and willing the Tigers to a 1-0 win in Game 1 of the American League Championship series.
He was threatening to join Don Larsen and Roy Halladay as the only pitchers with postseason no-hitters.
But the chance to make history wasn’t as important to him as the chance to set the tone in a series that Tigers manager Jim Leyland said will be won or lost on the backs of either team’s starting pitching.
“At this point, especially in this series, it’s not about throwing a no-hitter,” Sanchez said. “As soon as you get some zeroes, inning by inning and you face hitter by hitter and get him out, it’s more important. It’s more important than the no-hitter at this point.”
In all, five Tigers pitchers combined to hold the Red Sox to just one hit. The Sox had only been shut out in the postseason at home one other time in franchise history, and that was 95 years ago in Game 5 of the 1918 World Series.
“I wasn’t really worried about a no-hitter,” Leyland said. “It would’ve been nice. But it works out fine for us.”
After a brutal start in Game 3 of the ALDS against Oakland, Sanchez came into Fenway Park looking to bounce back, and he did.
In the process of becoming just the third Tigers pitcher to notch 12 strikeouts (four in the first inning) in a postseason game, he kept the Sox guessing, checking their swings and questioning home plate umpire Joe West’s strike zone.
“I tried to be on top of the ball for more movement on the pitch,” Sanchez said. “That’s what I did early in the season and it worked today.”
Even when he ran into a bases-loaded jam in the sixth and then fell behind 1-and-0 to Stephen, he was able to settle down, regain control of the at-bat and put Drew away with a fastball.
“The stuff was terrific,” Leyland said. “His stuff was still good when he faced Drew in that inning. He just got out of whack with his control a little bit. But his stuff was good.”
• The 50-game suspension Jhonny Peralta served for his involvement in the Biogenesis scandal made him an easy target for a Fenway crowd that is always looking for one (see: Wil Myers).
Going 3 for 4 with two doubles and driving in the only run of the night only made it worse. Showered with chants of “steroids” throughout the night, Peralta said he tried to tune it out.
“I don’t try to put attention about what the fans do,” he said. “I think it’s better for me to go the home plate and try to work hard every day. I don’t listen to what people say, the fans and everything. I try to concentrate every day on the game and try to do my job.”
Since returning for the postseason, Peralta has left his finger prints all over the Tigers playoff push. In the ALDS, he went 5 for 12 with five RBIS.
“Offensively, he’s done exactly what we hoped he’d do, “ Leyland said.
• The only other pitcher to strike out four hitters in an inning in a postseason game is Orval Overall in 1908 for the Cubs.
• Sanchez’s performance followed the no-hit bid Justin Verlander tool into the seventh inning in Game 5 of the ALDS against Oakland, making them the first pitchers to record back-to-back postseason starts with at least five no-hit innings.
• Carefully navigating the Sox lineup, Sanchez issued six walks, becoming just the second pitcher in postseason history to strike out 12 and walk six.
• With a single in the first inning, Miguel Cabrera has reached base in a major-league record 30 straight postseason games.