The Indians had three relievers up in their bullpen in the eighth inning as they waited to see whether they could rally to tie the game or pull ahead.
All that made for a bizarre Saturday afternoon at Progressive Field. All that mattered for the Tigers was that it ended with a win, once Jose Valverde sent down the Tribe in the ninth for a 5-3 victory before a similarly bizarre pro-Tigers crowd in Cleveland.
That happens when two teams heading in opposite directions meet. It's just that they took some odd turns along the way.
Like the White Sox in their win over Minnesota earlier in the day, the Tigers took a no-hitter into the seventh inning, then used their bullpen to escape a potential game-changing jam. In the end, Detroit stayed a game behind Chicago in the American League Central, with one more game Sunday before the Tigers and White Sox meet for a makeup game on Monday.
"It is what it is," manager Jim Leyland said. "We're obviously still playing for pretty big stakes, just like they are. You have to give them credit; they went over there and won two. You have to give us credit; we came over here and won two against a club that's been beating up on us most of the year. We have to try to figure out how to get one more tomorrow."
The way Sanchez threw for most of the game, sending Indians hitters chasing pitches through the late-afternoon shadows, they were thinking they could get more than a simple win. They were thinking Sanchez had a chance at repeating history.
Justin Verlander is one of 22 Major Leaguers with two no-hitters on his resume. Sanchez had a real chance to join him.
"From the third inning, I thought I had a chance," Sanchez said. "Everything was working good tonight. I'm hitting my spots and my ball was moving well, so I thought I could do it."
For 6 2/3 innings, the only baserunner Sanchez (3-5 with the Tigers) allowed was Shin-Soo Choo, whose foot Sanchez hit with a breaking ball leading off the fourth inning. A Carlos Santana double play erased him, allowing Sanchez to face the minimum 20 batters through his bid and rekindle memories of his no-hitter for the Marlins on Sept. 6, 2006.
The only play that came close to a hit through six innings was a Lou Marson ground ball up the middle that Omar Infante ran down behind second base before firing across his body to first to end the inning.
"I don't think too much what I did [in 2006]," Sanchez said. "The only thing I thought about between innings was who's coming up, what I have to do. I just tried to be aggressive with every pitch, try to get ahead. That's the most important. Get the first guy out. If I got behind in the count, I tried to be aggressive. I don't feel afraid about it.
"After [striking out Asdrubal] Cabrera, I think I'm going to do it."
That was the second out of the seventh inning, and the third time he had struck out Cabrera. He had retired Santana on two groundouts already and was hoping for another, but he fell behind in the count.
He got away with a 3-1 fastball over the plate that Santana fouled back. Santana didn't miss the full-count offering, drilling it off the center-field fence for a two-out triple.
Catcher Alex Avila "called inside, and I left it away and up," Sanchez said. "That's the pitch for Santana to hit."
Austin Jackson, whose plays have made him a familiar face in no-hit bids, ran after it thinking he had a play. It wasn't until he approached the center-field fence that he knew he didn't.
"Once I left my feet, I pretty much knew," Jackson said.
Santana ended up with a two-out triple.
By then, the Tigers had all their runs, as well as another they seemingly had until Avila was ruled out for missing third base in the fifth inning. Three Indians errors, two Avila RBI hits and a Jackson sacrifice fly completed the scoring damage against Cleveland starter Justin Masterson, who left after 4 2/3 innings before Tony Sipp retired Avila without even throwing a pitch.
Originally, Avila scored after Cabrera's error, though had missed touching third. Berry, whose ground ball single set up Cabrera's error, tried to get thrown out to make sure the run counted, but couldn't get the Indians to bite before they tried an appeal play. That lost run, meaningless for most of the afternoon, loomed large once the Indians started hitting Sanchez.
A Russ Canzler double and Lonnie Chisenhall single followed Santana's triple, the Indians had a ballgame going and Sanchez was out of the game. Phil Coke entered to face Casey Kotchman, then struck out pinch-hitter Matt LaPorta chasing a high fastball to end the threat.
"The last time Sanchez threw and I came in behind him, I gave up two of the runners I inherited from him," Coke said. "I told him I couldn't wait for the next opportunity, because it wasn't going to happen again. I finally got an opportunity to come in behind him and show him that I had his back, like I said I would."