Anibal's gem gives Tigers 2-0 ALCS lead

October 14th, 2012

NEW YORK -- This is why the Tigers felt they could do something in October if they could only get there. Whatever the other factors, they felt they could dictate the game with dominant starting pitching.

After Sunday's 3-0 win over the Yankees sent them home to Detroit with a 2-0 lead in this American League Championship Series, it's not just a game the Tigers are dictating. With seven more shutout innings from Anibal Sanchez on top of Doug Fister's stinginess Saturday night, they're leveraging their strength in the series.

"They've done it in the past," team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said, "but right now they're in a really good groove."

As they left the Big Apple on Sunday night and headed for an off-day at home, their first in a week, the Tigers stood two wins away from a spot in the World Series with their best starter, Justin Verlander, awaiting the Yankees on Tuesday at Comerica Park.

The Tigers became the 23rd team in LCS history to take a 2-0 series lead since it became a best-of-seven competition 26 years ago. Nineteen of the previous 22 went on to the World Series, the exceptions being the 1985 Blue Jays and Dodgers and the 2004 Yankees.

It's not over, but it's going to take the Yankees breaking up this stretch of starting pitching -- not once, but four times in five games. At this point, the Tigers are showing no signs of letting up.

"The thing is, we knew with our rotation, if we're able to get in, we knew we could do some damage," catcher Alex Avila said. "We have guys that can strike guys out, which is big in the playoffs. That's always like a must-have. And obviously, we have Verlander, so we were going to have a shot."

Yes, the Tigers got away with a missed call at second base on Sunday, extending the eighth inning for two add-on runs. But the Tigers were already up, 1-0, and Yankees were shut out. It cost them hope, but it didn't change the lead.

Hiroki Kuroda had five perfect innings and struck out seven of Detroit's first nine batters before giving up the game's first run in the sixth inning on a potential double-play ball and a fumbled exchange from second baseman Robinson Cano, giving Sanchez his first run of support in three weeks.

The Tigers had a closer-by-committee situation ready in Game 2 after back-to-back rough outings from Jose Valverde, leaving Detroit's bullpen a man short and Phil Coke closing Sunday's game with two innings. The Yankees never got a run.

"We have to make adjustments," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "We know what they are doing to us."

Raul Ibanez entered Sunday on a postseason tear with three lead-changing homers. He couldn't get the Yankees a run.

Sanchez never allowed it. No Tigers starter has allowed it, not an earned run anyway, since Game 3 of the AL Division Series last week in Oakland. No Tigers pitcher did it in two games in New York aside from Valverde's four-run ninth inning in Saturday's series opener.

For the postseason, Tigers starters have allowed just five earned runs over 48 innings, averaging just under seven innings per start.

"I think it kind of started the last month of the season, knowing that we had to catch the White Sox," Avila continued. "Each one of our guys went out there and kind of one-upped the other, really pitched well the last month of the season to get into the playoffs, but also continued doing that into the playoffs."

Sanchez fell victim to a shutout in his postseason debut last week in Oakland, as the Tigers were silenced by left-hander Brett Anderson and the A's bullpen. It fit a pattern of run support, or lack thereof, for Sanchez that dated back to the first inning of his three-hitter on Sept. 25 against Kansas City.

For six innings, it looked like more of the same. While Kuroda got on a dominant roll early, Sanchez changed speeds and got awkward swings for 12 groundouts. One was a behind-the-back grab from Sanchez on a Russell Martin comebacker to strand runners at first and second in the opening inning.

At least three others were solid plays from shortstop Jhonny Peralta, including a charging barehand grab and throw on Martin's dribbler to strand Ichiro Suzuki at third.

As he had before, Sanchez kept them in it.

"I can throw all my pitches for a strike," he said, "and then hopefully if I'm behind in the count or ahead in the count, I can throw whatever on any corner. I talked before with Avila, and I think we were on a good page, and I think that's why we had a successful game today."

Not until Peralta singled leading off the sixth inning did the Tigers have a baserunner, and he was promptly stranded on three straight groundouts. The two hardest-hit balls off Kuroda, ironically, came from speedy slap hitter Quintin Berry, whose ground-rule double to straightaway center finally put Detroit in business leading off the seventh.

Miguel Cabrera's single moved Berry to third with nobody out, but Kuroda struck out Prince Fielder for the first out and had two strikes on Delmon Young. After a foul ball into the seats to stay alive, Young hit a ground ball that sent shortstop Jayson Nix, filling in for the injured Derek Jeter, into the hole.

Nix made a quick grab and flip to second to get Cabrera, but Cano couldn't handle the exchange to try to fire to first base, allowing Berry to score.

"I didn't get a grip on the ball," Cano said. "I looked at the replay, and I would say he might have been safe. That's no excuse. I didn't get a grip on the ball."

The two-run eighth continued on second-base umpire Jeff Nelson's missed call, having mistakenly ruled that Omar Infante got his hand back into the bag on Nick Swisher's throw behind him on Austin Jackson's single. From there, however, the Yankees bullpen couldn't get a stop, allowing back-to-back RBI singles to pinch-hitter Avisail Garcia -- his third late-inning RBI single of the postseason -- and Cabrera.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi was ejected for arguing the call with Nelson.