Sanchez at best with batterymate Avila back
Righty five outs away from second career no-hitter in catcher's return from DL
DETROIT -- Tigers catcher Alex Avila realized around the fifth inning of Friday's 8-6 win over the Blue Jays that Anibal Sanchez was having a special night.
And as Detroit's offense continued piling on runs, Sanchez continued baffling Toronto. At one point, the righty had retired 16 straight batters. Then he was just five outs away from his second career no-hitter.
Left fielder Ezequiel Carrera spoiled it with a single to left field with one out in the eighth, and Sanchez was eventually tagged with four runs on three hits. But those numbers mask what was a stellar outing from a pitcher who desperately needed one.
"His changeup was so good early in the game," Avila said. "It was filthy. He was getting a ton of outs with it."
The catcher was making his first appearance with the Tigers after missing nearly two months with knee pain. In manager Brad Ausmus' opinion, Avila's biggest contribution with the club wouldn't come at the plate but behind it -- throwing out runners, blocking awry pitches and calling games.
It might not be an accident, then, that Sanchez's electric night came with his familiar batterymate.
"I'm sure it's not a coincidence," Ausmus said.
Sanchez and Avila have been in similar situations before -- late innings, trying to preserve a no-hitter. According to the catcher, Sanchez has fallen short of the feat by shaking off pitch suggestions.
"So this time, he was thinking, 'Don't shake Alex off, don't shake Alex off,'" Avila said. "He didn't and gives up a base hit.
"So I screwed that one up."
But Avila had a good explanation for why he called for the changeup Carrera lined into left field. Sanchez was showing signs of fatigue and wasn't locating his offspeed pitches as well as he had been previously. The right-hander's best remaining option in the eighth inning was the fastball -- but Avila didn't want the Blue Jays to start teeing off on the heater. Instead, he took a chance.
"I called a changeup, kind of like, 'If he puts it down like he did earlier in the game, it's a strikeout,'" Avila said, then paused to reconsider. "But I should've known better.
"He just made 100 and something pitches. I probably should've called a fastball. Next time."
Reclining in the chair near his locker, Sanchez -- who finished with 117 pitches over 7 1/3 innings -- praised Carrera for putting a good swing on a changeup out of the zone, and he spoke of his happiness that Detroit had snapped a three-game losing streak.
But his face lit up when asked about having Avila back behind the plate, even though the duo finished five outs short.
"Amazing," Sanchez said. "We talked about it, like, 'You are in the Minor Leagues, and you come back from the DL and that happened?'"