Sanchez was a strike away from fanning the side in order in the first inning. By the time he got the third out, he had thrown 41 pitches, and the Twins had a 2-0 lead.
"Sanchy was out of whack from the get-go," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said.
Five innings later, the Tigers were 90 feet away from erasing what had been a three-run lead. Scott Diamond didn't get a strikeout from Victor Martinez, but a groundout did just as well for his latest solid outing against Detroit.
The first inning, Leyland said, took a toll on his team, and especially Sanchez. He didn't say the same about the sixth, but the Twins rally that followed off relievers Bruce Rondon and Darin Downs seemed to suggest it.
Thus, while the Tigers set an American League record with their sixth consecutive game with double-digit strikeouts from their pitching staff, they could not pull off a sixth straight victory. By the ninth inning, the strikeout streak was the only piece of suspense left.
It was a far different result from what the first two batters suggested. Sanchez, making his first start since setting a franchise record with 17 strikeouts last Friday, looked like he was on his way to another nasty game early. After setting down Brian Dozier and Jamey Carroll swinging, he was a pitch away from striking out the side with a 1-2 count on Josh Willingham.
Once he lost Willingham to a walk, the inning -- and the count -- escalated quickly.
It didn't look as if Sanchez was throwing wildly to make him chase. He had gotten ahead of him working inside and out, and he hit 95 mph on an outside fastball off the outside corner once he got to two strikes. When Willingham didn't offer, Sanchez went to back-to-back sinkers inside, seemingly trying for the groundout.
Willingham took them both, earning his eighth walk in his 18th plate appearance against Sanchez.
"He doesn't normally start out at 94-95 [mph]," Leyland said. "I think his control paid for it."
Sanchez was more worried about his pace than his velocity, though they both might have been a sign of the same issue.
"My tempo was too fast in the first inning," Sanchez said. "That was the reason I was behind in some of the counts and my pitches didn't work like they usually do. It's a different game when that happens."
Again a pitch away, Sanchez saw Justin Morneau send a full-count offering into the left-field corner for an opposite-field RBI double. Ryan Doumit escaped another 1-2 count for a walk to extend the inning for Chris Parmelee, who lined a 1-2 pitch into left field to drive in Morneau.
Sanchez's 41 pitches were nearly split between balls (20) and strikes (21). His second inning was more efficient, and he struck out the side, but two hits in between -- including another two-out RBI double from Carroll -- extended the Twins' lead to 3-0.
Sanchez had five strikeouts through two innings, but four hits out of the five batters who put the ball in play. That was the difference.
"He calmed himself down," catcher Brayan Pena said, "and he came back with me and said, 'Let's keeping attacking the strike zone. Let's not shy away from contact.' And that's exactly what he did. He kept us in the ballgame. He gave us a shot to come back."
Sanchez (3-2) retired his final 11 batters after Doumit's third-inning single, striking out four more batters to finish with nine for the game over six innings. He has fanned at least eight batters in four of his last five starts.
"I don't know if the strikeout thing had anything to do with it or not," Leyland said, "but we all need to get a few quicker outs."
No number of strikeouts could get him the lead back. The Tigers needed a comeback against Diamond to have a chance. They came awfully close.
Diamond took a no-hitter into the fifth inning, retiring 11 consecutive batters after a hit-by-pitch and a walk in his opening inning. The Tigers broke up the no-hit bid from there, but their real threat came in the sixth, with three consecutive one-out hits from the top of their order.
Austin Jackson doubled and scored on Torii Hunter's single before Miguel Cabrera's double to the left-field fence plated his 29th RBI of the season. Prince Fielder's groundout moved Cabrera to third, and Martinez turned on a changeup and laced a line drive towards the left-field corner that fell foul.
On the next pitch, Diamond delivered a fastball that Martinez grounded to second. With that, Detroit's best threat was over.
He wasn't looking for a strikeout.
"At any moment, this team can strike," Diamond said. "You could see it in the sixth. Those two runs they put on the board happened really quickly. My main focus going into today was to work down in the zone and try to keep it in the ballpark and keep the ball on the ground. As always, my defense was awesome behind me, and we were able to make those innings a lot quicker."
Diamond (2-2), who missed the Tigers in the season-opening series, held Detroit to two runs for the fourth consecutive outing.
By the late innings, the one question left was the double-digit strikeout record. Jose Ortega's strikeout of Willingham in the ninth earned Detroit its sixth straight game with at least 10, the most by an American League team since at least 1916.