Blanks a lot: Near no-no keys Tigers' shutout of Sox

Blanks a lot: Near no-no keys Tigers' shutout of Sox

Blanks a lot: Near no-no keys Tigers' shutout of Sox

BOSTON -- The Red Sox are a dangerous foe for the Tigers, because they can score runs in so many different ways. The Tigers met their challenge to open the American League Championship Series by daring them to score without a hit.

The Red Sox came close to doing it, loading the bases on walks in the sixth and essentially forcing Anibal Sanchez out of the game after using his 116th pitch of the night to end the threat. The Tigers came close to history, falling two outs shy of the first combined no-hitter -- and the third of any kind -- in postseason play.

Detroit happily took the 1-0 win as a consolation, as it has the Tigers tantalizingly close to taking command of this series. The win gives the Tigers home-field advantage in the best-of-seven series.

"Especially in this series, it's not about throwing a no-hitter," said Sanchez, whose six no-hit innings played a leading role in one of the more bizarre pitching duels in recent postseason memory. "As you get some zeros inning by inning, and you face hitter by hitter, and get them out, it's more important. It's more important than the no-hitter at this point."

The end result of all those outs, all those scoreless innings, is leverage.

The Tigers head into Sunday night's Game 2 (8 ET, FOX), with Max Scherzer on the mound and a chance to head back to Detroit with a 2-0 series lead. When they get there, they'll have Justin Verlander waiting in Game 3 on Tuesday afternoon.

The Red Sox now need at least two wins in four games against Scherzer and Verlander to advance. They also need a find a way to hit Sanchez, the AL's ERA leader in the regular season but the third-best starter going in this year's Tigers postseason rotation.

Combine Sanchez's performance Saturday night with Verlander's gem against the A's in Game 5 of the AL Division Series, and Tigers starters have thrown 14 consecutive shutout innings on two hits with 22 strikeouts against two of the three most tenacious offenses in terms of working pitchers in the league.

To be fair, the Red Sox worked Sanchez, forcing those 116 pitches from him over his six innings. They just never hit him.

"Characteristic of this team all year is to build a pitch count. I thought we were doing that against Sanchez," Red Sox manager John Farrell said. "But the idea is to get to the bullpen, and as we went through that, anytime we had a man on base, he would get a strikeout when needed.

"But I wouldn't say patience working deep counts was the reason why we didn't get a hit until the ninth."

Considering Sanchez drew 20 swings and misses, patience would be a tough argument.

The second four-strikeout inning by a pitcher in postseason history, matching former Cub Orval Overall's feat from the 1908 World Series, was a sign of what kind of night this was going to be for Sanchez. His slider, the source of most of those swings, sent Shane Victorino swinging as it bounced in the dirt and skipped past catcher Alex Avila, allowing Victorino to reach base on the wild pitch. David Ortiz struck out at the same pitch two batters later with runners on first and second.

Sanchez, a former Red Sox prospect who went to Fenway Park to watch Pedro Martinez pitch years ago, looked like Martinez during his wild-throwing early seasons in Los Angeles and Montreal. Sanchez walked three batters during his first trip through the order to go with that strikeout-wild pitch, but he didn't allow a ball in play until Will Middlebrooks flied out to left on the eighth at-bat of the night.

That was one of just two balls the Red Sox hit out of the infield against Sanchez. For seven balls in play, though, that's not a bad ratio.

"It's kinda weird," said Torii Hunter, who didn't have a ball hit his way in right field until the next-to-last out of the game. "It's the playoffs, though."

The combination of a 93-mph Sanchez fastball off the backstop on the fly and a nasty slider to fan Stephen Drew in the fourth inning, to strike out the side in order, was another indication of a crazy game. That inning was the centerpiece of a dazzling second trip through the order for Sanchez, retiring 10 in a row from the end of the second inning into the sixth.

The nastier slider to fan Drew in the sixth inning and strand the bases loaded, preserving the no-hit bid yet ending Sanchez's outing, was the capper.

"I think my old pitch was working," Sanchez said. "I tried to get on top of the ball to make more movement on the pitch. That's what I did early in the season, and it worked today."

He struck out a franchise-record 17 batters in April against the Braves. He might've had a chance to meet that Saturday if not for the pitch count.

Sanchez became just the second pitcher in postseason history to rack up 12 strikeouts in six innings or fewer, joining former Cleveland Indians hurler Charles Nagy. He also became the first pitcher in postseason history to leave after six hitless frames.

"I know these guys, what they do all year long," Sanchez said of the Red Sox. "It was really crazy."

Red Sox starter Jon Lester did his best to keep pace, escaping a fifth-inning jam with two well-timed outs on the basepaths. But Jhonny Peralta's two-out line-drive single through the middle in the sixth inning plated Miguel Cabrera for the game's lone run.

With the Red Sox swinging and missing at so many sliders, it was fitting that high-strikeout slider machine Al Alburquerque retired the them in order in the seventh. Jose Veras struck out two in the eighth before lefty Drew Smyly retired Ortiz on just the eighth ball in play for the night. Suddenly, Joaquin Benoit had a lot more than a one-run game to try to save.

"I was just trying to get three outs. If it happens, it happens," Benoit said of the no-no. "But I was not worried about the no-hitter. I was just worried about preserving the win."

Daniel Nava's one-out line drive through the middle not only wrecked the no-hitter, the second ended in the ninth in the postseason after Game 4 the 1947 World Series, it suddenly put the potential tying run on base. A stolen base by former Tiger Quintin Berry gave the Red Sox a runner on second with two outs and rookie shortstop Xander Bogaerts up. With the count full, Benoit induced a popout to former Red Sox shortstop Jose Iglesias to end the suspense.

Jason Beck is a reporter for Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.