NEW YORK -- Anibal Sanchez smiled as he spoke, a bright red American League Championship Series backdrop providing an instant symbol of the magnitude of this moment. But the Tigers pitcher has been here before. In the spotlight. In The Stadium.
Granted, Sanchez has never been here -- on this kind of postseason stage -- but he has been into the belly of the beast in the Bronx and survived. Six years ago, the right-hander toed the rubber in old Yankee Stadium for his big league debut, with his mother watching him pitch for the first time on United States soil. And he won.
Sanchez called it "a really good story."
Detroit is asking him to pen another chapter.
On Sunday, Sanchez will take the mound for Detroit in Game 2 of this ALCS against the Yankees in New York's newer version of its classic cathedral. This time, both of Sanchez's parents -- his father, Anibal, and mother, Carmen -- will be on hand after traveling from Venezuela, sitting among the raucous cries of the Bombers' fan base.
"I don't know what's going to happen," Sanchez said. "But I'm going to do my best and try to have a good game for my parents and Detroit."
2012: 19 GS, 11-6, 2.72 ERA, 28 BB, 101 K Career: 19 GS, 11-6, 2.72 ERA, 28 BB, 101 K
Against this opponent
2012: 1 GS, 0-1, 21.00 ERA Career: 2 GS, 1-1, 7.27 ERA
2012: 2 GS, 0-0, 3.38 ERA Career: 3 GS, 0-1, 3.72 ERA
Loves to face: Alex Rodriguez, 0-for-3 Hates to face: Raul Ibanez, 6-for-25, 3 2B, 5 RBIs, 3 BB
Loves to face: Jhonny Peralta, 1-for-6, 2 K Hates to face: Miguel Cabrera, 4-for-9, 2 HR, 1.667 OPS
Why he'll win: Sanchez earned a quality start in eight of his last nine outings, including ALDS.
Why he'll win: Has been a much better pitcher at home this season (2.72 ERA, compared to 4.23 on the road).
Pitcher beware: Second career postseason start and it comes under the bright lights at Yankee Stadium.
Pitcher beware: Is starting on three days' rest for the first time in his MLB career.
Bottom line: Don't try to do too much.
Bottom line: Could show fatigue on short rest after throwing career high 219 2/3 innings this season.
A victory would send the Tigers back to the Motor City with a two-game lead over the Yankees. In the ALCS opener on Saturday, Detroit overcame a ninth-inning lapse by closer Jose Valverde and outlasted New York, 6-4, in 12 innings. Armed with a 1-0 lead in the series, the Tigers will hand the ball to Sanchez.
So many experiences in Sanchez's career have led to this moment.
Most recently, the right-hander took on Oakland's wild bunch at the Coliseum, where he held the A's to just two runs over 6 1/3 stellar innings on Tuesday. Lefty Brett Anderson and the Oakland bullpen were just a touch better, blanking Detroit's powerful lineup in a 2-0 loss for the Tigers in Game 3 of the AL Division Series.
Sanchez became the first Tigers starter to last that long, and allow that few runs, and still take a loss in his postseason debut. But he did not walk away defeated.
"The Oakland experience was amazing," Sanchez said. "I'd never been around fans like that -- so loud. They supported their home team really well. That's a good experience over there."
It prepared him for what is waiting around the corner.
Sanchez will be pitching under immense pressure, though that is old hat by now. As a rookie, the righty spun a no-hitter against Arizona on Sept. 6, 2006. In his Major League debut on June 25 of that season, all he did inside the old Yankee Stadium was shut out New York over 5 2/3 innings, picking up a win for the Marlins.
Hitting third for the Marlins in that game long ago was a budding slugger named Miguel Cabrera. Sanchez has a more veteran version of Cabrera -- a Triple Crown winner in the AL this season -- behind him these days with Detroit.
In that first taste of the Majors, Sanchez was faced with a Yankees lineup that featured Johnny Damon, Derek Jeter, Jason Giambi, Alex Rodriguez, Robinson Cano, Bernie Williams and Melky Cabrera. The righty scattered seven hits, issued no walks and waltzed to the win column.
On the eve of his Game 2 start for Detroit -- New York will counter with Hiroki Kuroda on short rest -- Sanchez could not help but reminisce about that game a half-dozen years ago.
"I was thinking about it," Sanchez admitted. "The feeling was really exciting. That day, my debut, everything was fantastic."
Things have been going well of late for Sanchez, too.
When Sanchez was acquired from the Marlins -- along with infielder Omar Infante -- in a July 23 trade, he stepped into an unfamiliar Tigers clubhouse. He needed to get used to his new surroundings, new coaches, new teammates and everything else that comes with switching teams in the middle of a summer.
On the hill, Sanchez got off on the wrong foot, posting a 7.97 ERA in his first four outings for Detroit.
"There's a lot of stress and things that go along with moving to another team," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "Particularly a team in a pennant race with a lot of responsibility."
Sanchez has since settled in, posting a 2.23 ERA (15 earned runs across 60 2/3 innings) with 47 strikeouts against just nine walks over his past nine turns, dating to Aug. 22. That includes his recent performance against the A's.
The wins have not always followed, but that can happen when there is an absence of run support. Consider that the Tigers have offered just 2.22 runs on average over that same nine-start sample from Sanchez.
For his part, Sanchez has continuously given Detroit a fighting chance.
"It takes a little time to get acclimated to your new surroundings," Leyland said. "He has done that very well."
That comfort level should be there again come Sunday afternoon.
"Right now, I'm really together with the team," Sanchez said. "When I came here, it was really tough for me, because nobody knew me, especially my teammates. I had to make friends on the team. But right now, everybody is on the same page and I'm really excited."