Righty was trying to become 28th pitcher to have multiple no-hitters
DETROIT -- Justin Verlander almost had to make room for another Tigers pitcher with two no-hitters on his resume. As it was, Anibal Sanchez provided yet another reminder why he has a place alongside him in that category of elite starters.
Seven years and a league change after Sanchez tossed a no-hitter for the Marlins on Sept. 6, 2006, here he was again, just the top of the ninth inning away from another on a chilly Friday night at Comerica Park, where he struck out 17 hitters four weeks earlier.
He claims he didn't know he had the no-hitter going back in 2006, but he certainly knew it as he began the ninth inning, having seen the scoreboard and heard the reactions. All that stood between him and history was the top of the Twins lineup and Joe Mauer, who makes a living breaking up no-hitters.
Mauer ended two other bids in the ninth inning in his career, and when Sanchez left a breaking ball over the plate with one out in the final frame, he ended this one, too. But his one-out liner through the middle could do nothing about the result, as Sanchez finished the one-hit shutout for a 6-0 win.
He would've been the 28th pitcher in Major League history with multiple no-hitters. Instead, he's the 18th big league pitcher since 1916 to throw five complete games with one hit or less. He's also the pitcher who put the Tigers back atop the American League Central following Cleveland's loss in Boston.
That's good enough for him.
"In the end, he got the hit," Sanchez said of Mauer. "But I feel good. I'll take my nine innings."
There were no regrets from Sanchez, whose mix of fastballs and off-speed pitches in different counts left Twins hitters guessing for most of the night. Nor were there superstitions. As someone who has done this before, he was talking with teammates in the dugout between innings when he wasn't down in the tunnel.
"I talked to him a little bit throughout the game," Prince Fielder said. "He was just locked in."
It was a no-hit bid that was so laid-back, even the crowd of 39,789 didn't really get charged up until he needed just nine pitches to send down the middle of Minnesota's order in the seventh.
After an eighth-inning walk to Eduardo Escobar ended Sanchez's roll of 18 consecutive batters retired, Sanchez regrouped to retire pinch-hitter Ryan Doumit. Four outs from history, with the crowd roaring and another pinch-hitter awaiting, he called catcher Alex Avila to the mound.
He couldn't remember the signs.
"I mean, he called me out to the mound in the middle of a no-hitter," Avila said. "I've been in the middle of a no-hitter a few times in the sixth, seventh inning, and I don't think any pitcher has called me to the mound."
That's Sanchez's style. After back-to-back summers of Verlander no-hit watches, it was an oddly different vibe.
A walk to Jamey Carroll leading off the game gave the Twins a baserunner, but Minnesota didn't come close to a hit until the seventh. Sanchez allowed a second-inning walk to Chris Parmelee, then got rolling, striking out four in a row.
The formula worked over and over -- put the Twins hitters in a two-strike count, start mixing pitches, then let them guess.
"I think you saw a perfect example of a guy that in a fastball count was throwing something else, and in a something-else count was throwing fastballs," manager Jim Leyland said. "I thought you saw a masterpiece between him and Alex."
Sanchez struck out everybody in the Twins starting lineup at least once except for Parmelee, who didn't hit the ball out of the infield. Mauer, 4-for-8 lifetime against Sanchez entering the evening, struck out twice in a game against the Tigers for just the sixth time in the last five years.
It had to look familiar to Josh Willingham. He was playing left field behind Sanchez in Florida when he threw his no-hitter in 2006.
"He was throwing the ball great. It was moving all over the place like a Wiffle ball," said Willingham, who went down swinging at a 93-mph fastball.
The usual history-preserving defensive gem wasn't to be found. The closest came when Justin Morneau smacked a seventh-inning line drive up the middle that Jhonny Peralta ranged a few steps to his left to snare as a fan behind the home plate yelled out, "Oh no!"
Sanchez's toughest obstacle at that point looked like his pitch count, 90 pitches through six innings. Once he finished the seventh on nine pitches, it was on.
"His stuff was really good in the seventh," Fielder said. "You figured he had a great chance, assuming nothing crazy would happen. He was outstanding."
Mauer, Morneau and Carroll all entered the night batting over .300, but nobody else in Minnesota's lineup was hitting better than .263. Doumit and Chris Colabello, whose various stops included three weeks in the Tigers organization in 2006, came off the bench in the eighth to try to wreck it, but Sanchez followed Doumit's groundout by striking out Colabello.
Sanchez was keenly aware by then.
"It's not like the first time when I threw my no-hitter, I didn't know," Sanchez said. "I knew I had a no-hitter and I knew I had a tough ninth inning with Carroll and Mauer, one of the best hitters in the league, and also Willingham."
Sanchez froze Carroll with a 92-mph fastball on the inside corner for his 10th strikeout. He had a 1-1 count on Mauer when he tried mixing him up with a curveball and missed.
"He wanted to get a second strike on him," Avila said. "It was over the plate. I've seen Mauer do that a bunch of times."
Mauer thought it was a different pitch.
"He threw me a good cutter," Mauer said, "but I think it caught a little too much of the plate so I was able to square it up. But that was about the only thing I could tonight."