Mistakes derail Sanchez despite improved command
Coming off wild no-hit outing in opener, Tigers starter stung by big inning in Game 5
DETROIT -- When Anibal Sanchez faced the Red Sox five days ago, he didn't allow a single hit. And yet, the Tigers starter figured he needed to be better when he took the ball for Game 5 of the American League Championship Series at Comerica Park on Thursday night.
He needed to pound the strike zone to record quick outs, conserve his pitch count, get deeper in the game and avoid the six walks -- and, in some ways, the 12 strikeouts -- that made his no-hit night end after only six innings at Fenway Park on Saturday.
It didn't work out the way he had hoped.
True to his word, Sanchez didn't walk anyone on Thursday night. But he also gave up four runs (three earned) -- one on a massive home run from Mike Napoli, another on a wild pitch -- in a tough-luck, six-inning outing in which he was the losing pitcher of record.
"I think the big difference between those two games is that I threw more strikes today," Sanchez said after the 4-3 loss that put his team behind in the ALCS, 3-2, heading back to Boston. "When I was behind in the count, I threw strikes. That didn't happen in the first game. The first game, I just threw my pitch, and that's why I got a lot of walks in the first game. But today I just tried to put the ball on the plate. I wanted to stay longer in the game. I don't want to go six innings. I know I can do better than that. At the end, it's part of the game. Everything happened today."
And most of it happened in the second inning.
Napoli led off with a 460-foot homer to straightaway center field -- his Major League-leading fourth of the season at least that distance, according to ESPN -- and the Red Sox piled on from there, in a frame that saw Sanchez waste 24 pitches and forced Rick Porcello to start warming up in the bullpen. Jonny Gomes reached on an error by third baseman Miguel Cabrera, Xander Bogaerts doubled, David Ross made it a 2-0 game with another double, and Jacoby Ellsbury hit a liner off Sanchez's glove to put the Tigers in an early 3-0 hole.
Asked for the difference between Sanchez in Game 1 and Game 5, Napoli said: "Just probably a couple more pitches up. It seemed like he was leaning on the corners and got us to chase some pitches the first game. Me personally, I was just trying to get something up in the zone and see pitches, like I always do."
Sanchez threw 68 of his 108 pitches for strikes, after throwing only 66 of his 116 for strikes the last time out, and retired 10 of his last 13 batters, providing a quality start despite a rough second inning to keep his team in the game.
"He struggled a little bit and left some balls up," catcher Alex Avila said, "but he definitely battled and did everything to give us a chance to win."
On a night when Sanchez was emphatic about being around the plate, it was one of his errant pitches that wound up being the difference.
Napoli -- who finished a triple shy of the cycle -- led off the top of the third with a ground-rule double and advanced to third on Gomes' grounder back to the mound. Five pitches later, Sanchez's 2-2 slider hit the dirt and squirted past an ailing Avila, allowing the eventual winning run to score.
It was that kind of night for the 29-year-old right-hander.
"One line drive against me, I don't catch it, then they make another run, then the wild pitch, another run, the error, another run," Sanchez said, his career postseason ERA at 2.95 through six starts. "At the end, you keep those three things out of the game, we won. But like I said, it's part of the game. Everything went right for them today."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.