Tigers let out inner Anibal
Right-hander follows historic inning by holding Sox hitless for six
BOSTON -- Anibal Sanchez has established himself as one of the game's elite strikeout pitchers over the past several years, and it was his ability to avoid contact in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series on Saturday that secured his spot in the postseason record books.
The veteran right-hander achieved a slew of milestones with a dominating performance against the Red Sox. Though he struggled with his control at times, he recorded 12 strikeouts while not allowing a hit during his six innings of work in the Tigers' 1-0 win over the Red Sox.
Along the way he became just the second person in postseason history to strike out four batters in one inning, and his 12 K's were the most by any starter against Boston in a playoff game.
"I know [the Red Sox], what they've done all year long," Sanchez said. "It was really crazy. I just tried to keep my ball down, in the strike zone. I try [not] to miss in the middle. That's why I got a couple of walks today."
Sanchez's impressive night began with a feat that hadn't been accomplished since 1908. He struck out four batters in the first inning to become just the second pitcher in Major League history to do so in a postseason game. The first was Cubs right-hander Orval Overall, in Game 5 of the 1908 World Series against Detroit.
The inning started with a strikeout of Boston's Jacoby Ellsbury. Shane Victorino then swung and missed at strike three but advanced to first when the ball got away from catcher Alex Avila. Sanchez, unfazed, proceeded to strike out both David Ortiz and Mike Napoli to end the frame and earn a piece of history.
In addition to matching Overall, Sanchez became the first Tigers pitcher to strike out four batters in an inning, including both the regular season and postseason. Detroit previously was the only original AL team to not have a pitcher accomplish that quirky feat.
"I give him credit, he kept us off balance all night long," Victorino said. "It's just one of those things. It's part of the game. You just chalk this one up and get ready to go tomorrow."
Sanchez's 12 strikeouts are tied for the second most in Tigers postseason history. Billy Donovan had the same number during Game 1 of the 1907 World Series against the Cubs, and Joe Coleman holds the overall record, with 14 in Game 3 of the 1972 ALCS, against the A's.
The ability to miss a lot of bats is nothing new for Sanchez. He finished the regular season ranked sixth in the AL, with 202, and has 1,006 over his 1,051 big league innings. Earlier this year he had 17 strikeouts against the Braves, and he reached double digits five times.
In some ways there are pros and cons to that type of approach. Sanchez was able to use strikeouts to escape a couple of jams -- including a bases-loaded situation in the sixth -- but wasn't able to come back out for the seventh because he had already thrown 116 pitches.
"It's a Catch-22. It's not so valuable, because you don't get a lot of quick outs, so the pitch count goes up," manager Jim Leyland said. "But when you get in a jam, they have the capability of striking somebody out. It works both ways."
Sanchez's lack of command at times also gave him another unique piece of history, as he joined Hall of Famer Walter Johnson as the only pitchers to record 12 strikeouts and six walks in a postseason game. Johnson had the same tallies during Game 1 of the 1924 World Series.
The stats don't stop there. Sanchez is also just the second pitcher in postseason history to strike out 12 but not pitch more than six innings. Indians right-hander Charles Nagy did the same on Oct. 5, 1996, in the AL Division Series, vs. the Orioles.
In addition, Sanchez helped the Tigers become just the third team in playoff history to record 17 strikeouts in a nine-inning game. The Cardinals recorded 17 K's -- all by Bob Gibson -- in Game 1 of the 1968 World Series against the Tigers, and the Padres fanned 17 Astros in Game 1 of the 1998 National League Division Series, with Kevin Brown striking out 16 and Trevor Hoffman whiffing one.
The list of records seems almost endless, but for Sanchez and his teammates, the most important thing is that they came out with an early advantage over the Red Sox.
"He was a little erratic, but he made some big pitches," Avila said. "Normally, he has good command of all his pitches. Obviously, he walked too many guys, but I'll take it."