Sanchez, who threw no-no for Marlins in 2006, applauds fellow Venezuelan
MIAMI -- Anibal Sanchez has said that the ovation he received last summer at Comerica Park when he made his first start there in a Tigers uniform topped even the crowd reaction when he threw his no-hitter for the Marlins in 2006 in front of 12,561 at Dolphins Stadium.
And as Henderson Alvarez walked off the mound in the ninth inning on Sunday, having struck out Matt Tuiasosopo to keep the Tigers hitless in what was still a scoreless duel at that point, Sanchez was at the top of the visitors' dugout, watching and listening as the roar of 28,315 echoed through Marlins Park.
The last Marlins pitcher to throw a no-hitter was watching his successor, even though it took a run in the bottom of the inning to make it complete.
Sanchez wasn't a teammate of Alvarez's, who came over from Toronto last offseason, but he's a fellow Venezuelan, and he also knows what it's like to try to earn recognition in South Florida.
"I'm really happy that he did that," Sanchez said. "He deserves it. I think he's one of the guys that can throw games like that. He's got good pitches, and he used [them] today, like he has, to do it. He was down in the zone, attacked the zone. He finished the hitters. He was around the zone. That's good.
"Besides that, he's from Venezuela, and I know this guy. It's an exciting moment for him because he did it, but also [because of] the rest of the people that saw it."
He also knows what having another pitching star could mean for his former franchise.
"It's good," he said, "because I think ... going into next year, that team's going to have more crowds every game."
Alvarez became the first pitcher to no-hit the Tigers since Matt Garza, then pitching for Tampa Bay, shut them down on July 26, 2010, at Tropicana Field.
Though the Tigers rested several regulars in the regular-season finale -- including three-time batting champion Miguel Cabrera, Austin Jackson and Victor Martinez for the whole game and Prince Fielder and Omar Infante after a couple of plate appearances -- they made no excuses. A no-hitter doesn't come with an asterisk, and it never comes easy.
"Everybody's trying. It's not like we didn't try," said Ramon Santiago, who started in Cabrera's place. "Like I said, he had good stuff today."
Santiago was one of five Tigers to play the entire game, joining Andy Dirks, Jhonny Peralta, Brayan Pena and Don Kelly.
Though the lineup change, along with some quick at-bats in the early innings, gave the game the feeling of a late Spring Training contest, the effort, Santiago insisted, was big league.
"I think you have to grind it," Santiago said. "It's still a regular-season game. I know we already clinched, but at the same time, you're a professional. You get paid to go out there and grind and play the game, try to win the game, no matter the situation."
Alvarez's pitching, everyone agreed, was big league.
"I don't want to take anything away from that kid. He threw a heck of a ballgame," said Justin Verlander, who took a no-decision after throwing six shutout innings and striking out 10.
"He doesn't deserve to have anything taken away from him. These are still professional Major League hitters, still the best players in the world. Granted, Miggy wasn't in the lineup and Prince didn't get many [at-bats], but these guys are still the best in the world. It doesn't matter who you're going against. To do something like that is very impressive."
It was an ironic contrast for manager Jim Leyland, who talked before the game about this weekend being a no-win situation in regard to determining when to rest players and when to play them. It has been agreed that this was the day for Cabrera to sit, and the lack of a designated hitter in a National League park left Martinez on the bench, limited to pinch-hitting duties.
Kelly batted leadoff to get some extra at-bats, with Dirks -- a likely starter in left field for the American League Division Series opener on Friday in Oakland -- batting second. Peralta moved up to cleanup.
The Marlins' pitching staff, however, held a Tigers lineup that had more regulars in it to three runs and one extra-base hit over the previous two games.
"I think we ran into some guys we hadn't seen, with terrific equipment," said Leyland, who also raved about Nathan Eovaldi on Saturday night.
The game likely would have required a rally to create an opportunity for Leyland to use Cabrera. There was a chance in the ninth inning after Dirks drew a two-out walk, but he worried that bringing Cabrera off the bench without much warmup time might be more of a risk than it was worth.
Better to lose on a no-hitter, he figured, than lose Cabrera for the postseason.
"I was going to hit him," Leyland said, "but after I rethought it, I just said, 'You know, he's not really loose. It might take him too much time to get loose. Let's not take a chance.' I mean, if we had loaded the bases or something with one out, I might have done it. But you don't want to do anything silly."