Sixth-inning rally ends when shortstop fans on Sanchez's 89-mph slider
BOSTON -- There was still a zero hanging in the home team hit column out on the Green Monster, but that didn't figure to hold for much longer. A trio of Red Sox clogged the bases and the Fenway Park crowd smelled an opportunity, as Anibal Sanchez's control had seemed to evaporate in the sixth inning.
Sanchez then uncorked a filthy 89-mph slider that Stephen Drew waved at, and the Tigers right-hander pumped his fist with elation. Boston's best threat of the night ended with three men left on, and Sanchez's 12-strikeout performance in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series was complete.
"I let him off the hook," Drew said after Detroit's 1-0 victory. "I had two pitches I could have done something with. He made the last pitch to get me. He threw the ball well tonight. It was the best he's probably thrown all year."
The Red Sox had to wait until the ninth inning to log their first hit off the Tigers staff, coming on Daniel Nava's single off Joaquin Benoit. Boston manager John Farrell pointed to the sixth inning as just one of their missed chances.
"Whether it was Sanchez or every guy they brought out of the bullpen, it was power stuff," Farrell said. "They had a secondary pitch they could go to. We got some big opportunities in that first, second and sixth inning, and a two-out base hit was elusive."
Sanchez issued three of his six walks in that sixth inning, his pitch count climbing toward its eventual total of 116, yet Tigers manager Jim Leyland opted for patience with the AL's ERA leader.
"The pitch count came up a little high early, but he got rolling pretty good and made some good pitches," Leyland said. "He gave us all we needed."
The sixth inning started with Shane Victorino bunting in an attempt to break up the no-hit bid, but he pushed it up the first-base line and found himself wrapped in a bear hug by Prince Fielder.
Dustin Pedroia walked and advanced on a wild pitch, but Sanchez rebounded to strike out David Ortiz. Mike Napoli walked on a 3-2 fastball, drawing pitching coach Jeff Jones out for a visit, and Sanchez then walked Nava on five pitches to load the bases.
Detroit had left-hander Drew Smyly warming in the bullpen, but Leyland figured that Farrell would counter that move by sending up the right-handed-swinging Jonny Gomes to pinch-hit.
"I assume we wanted to stay away from that," said Leyland, who emphatically clapped his hands in the visiting dugout, signaling that the inning was Sanchez's to finish.
Drew was ready. A .253 hitter during the regular season, Boston's shortstop noted that he enjoyed a good deal of success in two-out situations, when he batted .306 (52-for-170) with seven homers, 42 RBIs and a .946 OPS.
Sanchez said his goal was to get ahead in the count, something he accomplished after a first-pitch ball by getting Drew to foul off the next three offerings -- including a 96-mph fastball on his second-to-last pitch -- before snapping the last slider past Drew's swing.
"I try to be relaxed, basically, when I've got bases loaded," Sanchez said. "I came back and throw every pitch for a strike. That's what I was looking for in the inning. I struck them out and was really excited at that point."
Drew finished the game 0-for-3 with a second-inning walk. He said that Sanchez was successful against Boston's lineup because he had been working inside and out, with a good changeup and -- of course -- that good slider to mix with his high-octane heat.
"Obviously, when he wants to, he can reach back a little bit and hit 96 [mph]," Drew said. "Nothing is straight on that guy. It was just his night. That's the way it went for him. Hopefully we come back tomorrow and swing the bat well, and see where this series takes us."