BOSTON — A particularly sharp-looking pitcher early in an outing is often tabbed as having "no-hit stuff" or, the corollary, so off he might "walk the ballpark."
Tigers right-hander Anibal Sanchez's combined both Saturday night in an almost hard-to-fathom outing in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series against the Red Sox.
Sanchez walked six and struck out 12 in six no-hit innings and nearly was part of the first combined no-hitter in postseason history.
That possibility ended with one out in the ninth when Daniel Nava singled off former Rays reliever Joaquin Benoit after fouling off three two-strike pitches, but the Tigers hung on for a 1-0 victory in front of 38,210 stunned fans at Fenway Park late Saturday night. The 3 hour, 56 minute game was the longest nine-inning game in postseason history.
It was a day for pitching in the playoffs. St. Louis beat the Dodgers 1-0 in the NLCS.
"That tells you the quality of pitching in the postseason," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "We've got to do a lot better with our opportunities, but in this one we were able to hold on."
Boston, the majors' highest-scoring team during the regular season, was shut out at Fenway Park in the postseason for the first time in 95 years.
Sanchez was removed after six innings and 116 pitches, striking out the final batter he faced, Stephen Drew, with the bases loaded. Four relievers kept the Red Sox, who struck out 17 times, off the scoreboard from there, though Benoit inserted some drama in the ninth.
After Quentin Berry pinch-ran for Nava, Benoit got behind Drew 2-and-0 before the shortstop flew out. With rookie Xander Bogaerts at the plate, Berry stole second. Bogaerts got ahead 2-and-1 before popping a 3-and-2 pitch to shortstop to end it.
Jon Lester pitched brilliantly as well, allowing one run and six hits over 6⅓ innings.
Sanchez's erratic, not to mention odd, night started in a 26-pitch first when, with one out, he struck out Shane Victorino on a ball in the dirt. However, the ball got past catcher Alex Avila for a wild pitch, allowing Victorino to reach. Sanchez walked Dustin Pedroia, bringing up David Ortiz, who came into the at-bat 3-for-3 with two homers in his career against the right-hander. Ortiz, who had a .556 OBP in the four-game AL Division Series against the Rays, got ahead 2-and-1 but struck out — though he didn't think so — on a 3-and-2 check swing. Sanchez struck out Mike Napoli on a 95-mph fastball to end the inning.
Sanchez became the first pitcher to strike out four batters in a postseason inning since Orval Overall of the Cubs in 1908. Overall did so in the first inning of Game 5 of that year's World Series. Sanchez also became the first Tigers pitcher to record a four-strikeout inning.