Anibal returns, tops Sox for Tigers' sixth straight win
Righty allows one earned run over five in first start since late April
BOSTON -- The lasting image of Torii Hunter at Fenway Park last October was him flipping over the right-field wall trying to chase down David Ortiz's grand slam in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series. It was a fitting cap to the Tigers' return that he sent a drive soaring over the Green Monster in left on Sunday night.
"I've done that a couple times in my day," he said with a smile, trying to shrug it off. "You play this long, it's bound to happen."
Even he hasn't played long enough to see the kind of roll his team is doing right now.
It was a seventh-inning home run that landed in the parking lot beyond left field, and it sent more than a few Fenway Park faithful out of the park with it. As one-sided as this Tigers-Red Sox rematch ended up, capped by Sunday night's 6-2 win for the series sweep, it was an exclamation point.
The last time the Tigers swept a series at Fenway Park, they had Milt Wilcox, Jack Morris and Dan Petry shutting down the Boston offense. That was in 1983. The last time the Tigers simply won a series here, Craig Monroe hit a go-ahead single scoring shortstop Carlos Guillen. That was in 2006.
The Tigers not only swept their way through Boston this weekend, they trailed for only one inning. Xander Bogearts' second-inning RBI single gave Boston a 1-0 lead, but Anibal Sanchez stranded runners at the corners.
Four batters into the next inning, as Victor Martinez sent Jake Peavy's 1-2 pitch into the Red Sox's bullpen for a two-run homer, the Tigers had the lead back. Boston had no answer.
"That's the sign of a really good team, being able to respond to runs given up," said Ian Kinsler, who scored to tie the game on Miguel Cabrera's RBI single four pitches before Martinez's homer. "We come right back and answer. The regular-season momentum's not as big of a factor as it is in the postseason, but you still want the momentum on your side. And we were able to hold the momentum for most of the game."
Except for Tuesday's comeback effort in Baltimore, where they trailed for eight innings ahead of Cabrera's go-ahead homer in the ninth, the Tigers had momentum all week. Except for a couple hiccups on the West Coast and in Minnesota, they've held the momentum away from Detroit all season.
"The truth is, we probably caught Boston a little bit cold," said manager Brad Ausmus. "If you catch them on a hot streak, it's a different story. Our pitching did an outstanding job, but we probably also caught them on a downturn, offensively. That certainly doesn't make our pitchers' performances any less good."
As a result, the Tigers now head to Cleveland with a 6-0 record this trip, an 11-game road winning streak, a 14-4 road mark this season, and a seven-game division lead. Their final stop on this three-city trek is a three-game set against an Indians club that currently sits at the bottom of the AL Central, having just been swept at home by Oakland.
"We're just going to try to ride that bike 'til the wheels fall off, like I always say," Hunter said.
The A's have the best run differential in baseball. The Tigers, owners of baseball's best record at 27-12, own the second-best differential, having outscored their opponents by 55 runs. Eighteen of those runs have come on this trip.
"We played a very good series, threw the ball really well," Kinsler said. "All three guys really threw the ball well, and gave our offense the chance to keep building on our leads. Really, we played ... I don't want to say perfect baseball, because that's impossible, but we played really well."
Sunday night was supposed to be their toughest test for that pitching strategy, with Sanchez coming off the disabled list for his first start in over three weeks. He got his test in the fifth inning, staring at a bases-loaded jam with a 4-1 lead and the middle of the Boston order due up.
He had a base open after Shane Victorino's stolen base on a 2-2 pitch to Ortiz. With the count full, the Tigers elected to walk Ortiz, putting the tying run on base, and taking their chances with Mike Napoli, who homered off Sanchez as part of a three-hit game the last time they met in Game 4 of the ALCS last October.
"I know Anibal would've liked to have gone after him, tried to make one good pitch there and get him out," catcher Alex Avila said. "But it's a smart play putting a force at every base and getting the right matchup for him. Either way, you have to have a lot of confidence in the guy on the mound."
Sanchez got the ground ball he wanted, but Avila never got control of third baseman Don Kelly's throw in the dirt, allowing one run to score. Sanchez gathered himself and escaped on his next pitch.
It was an 88-mph changeup to Grady Sizemore, who smashed a hard-hit line drive up the middle that Sanchez snared. His throw to third was a fastball so hard that Kelly had to react quickly and tap his foot around the bag to find it for the third out. Sanchez pounded his glove on his way off the field, then slapped hands with coach Omar Vizquel as he headed down the dugout steps.
"That was probably going to be my last hitter," Sanchez said. "I was excited to make that play."
It didn't have the meaning of Sanchez's last start here, when he tossed six no-hit innings to open last year's ALCS, but the emotion throughout the dugout made it tough to tell. The same went for the series as a whole.
It can't be revenge for last postseason. It can be a statement for now.
"It was a great series," Hunter said. "We're playing well on the road. We're just playing baseball. There's a lot of guys that know how to play and know how to hit, how to have professional at-bats and play the game. You saw Kinsler. You saw Victor, [Austin Jackson], all of us. We're just rounding out at-bats and playing the game."