BOSTON - To hear Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland's description of Anibal Sanchez' performance, you'd have thought it was just another night at the ballpark.
"The pitch came up a little high early and a little careful early," said Leyland. "But he got rolling pretty good and made some good pitches and gave us all we needed. And made a great pitch on Drew to get out of (the sixth) inning."
Rather innocuous, move-along-there's-nothing-to-see-here type words from Leyland. Except that the opener of the American League Championship Series, won 1-0 by the Tigers, was one of the stranger games you'll see.
Sanchez left after six innings of no-hit baseball. Why? Well, he'd thrown 116 pitches. How'd he do that? By striking out 12 Red Sox, including four in the first inning (Shane Victorino reached on a third strike wild pitch,) and by walking six Boston hitters.
Oh, by the way, Sanchez became just the second pitcher in playoff history to strike four hitters out in an inning. The last, a man by the name of Orval Overall, who accomplished the feat for the Chicago Cubs in the first inning of the fifth game of the 1908 World Series. Let that marinate. The feat is rare, sure, but it hadn't happened in the post-season since the Cubs – yes, the Cubs – last won a World Series.
Three more Detroit relievers – Al Alburquerque, Jose Veras and Drew Smyly – combined to erase the Red Sox in order in the seventh and eighth innings.
With one out in the ninth and Tigers' closer Joaquin Benoit in to protect the one-run lead, Boston's Daniel Nava grinded out a seven-pitch at-bat, culminating in a single to centre field.
The Red Sox were spared the infamy of being no-hit, but couldn't advance Nava's single beyond second base.
The poor Cubs, now having to share Overall's record with Sanchez, also saw the Tigers become the first team to shut out the Red Sox in a playoff game at Fenway Park since the 1918 World Series. It was Chicago's Hippo Vaughn, with no relief help, who turned the trick that day. Move over, Hippo, you're sharing the record book with Sanchez-Alburquerque-Veras-Smyly-Benoit.
Sanchez had a 26-pitch first inning, needed 25 to get through the second and another 28 to work out the sixth. In that sixth inning, he walked the bases loaded for his second multiple walk inning of the night – he'd walked two hitters in the second – but managed to escape damage by striking out David Ortiz and later Stephen Drew.
Meantime, the Tigers' offensive hero was Jhonny Peralta, the anti-Melky Cabrera. Unlike Cabrera, who was exiled from the Giants after testing positive for performance enhancing drugs in the second half of last season, Peralta was welcomed back from his 50-game suspension this year.
Peralta's two-out single in the sixth scored Miguel Cabrera for the game's only run. The shortstop-turned-left fielder, remember it's no easy task playing in front of the Green Monster regardless of experience, followed up his torrid series against Oakland (.417) with three of the Tigers' nine hits.
The pressure now falls squarely in the lap of the Red Sox, who can ill afford to lose Sunday night's second game. To lose would be to fall behind 2-0 before a trip to Detroit where Justin Verlander will be waiting. Verlander, if you haven't been watching the playoffs, authored two out-of-this-world performances versus the Athletics.
Clay Buchholz will start Game 2 for Boston. Twenty-one game winner Max Scherzer, the likely AL Cy Young Award winner, will get the ball for Detroit.
In the meantime, Anibal Sanchez will look on from the Tigers' dugout, no doubt basking in the glory of the record he now shares with a man named Orval Overall.
What a strange, fun and intriguing night it was.