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A sometimes-irreverent look at Detroit's Boys of Summer, the Tigers, as they try to return to the top of the American League Central.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

WORLD SERIES: Sanchez is there when Tigers need him, offense is not

DETROIT — He was a luxury when they got him.

Saturday, he was a necessity.

When the Detroit Tigers traded for Anibal Sanchez as part of the deadline package they got from the Miami Marlins, he was a luxury — the Tigers didn’t NEED Sanchez to replace rookie Drew Smyly in the rotation.

For all that getting a pitcher was the expressed desire of manager Jim Leyland, the Tigers could’ve lived with the rotation they had.

But they NEEDED him Saturday night, needed him to come through in Game 3 of the World Series.

He did.

The offense didn’t.

“He gave us a great start tonight and gave up two runs. But that’s an outstanding start,” Andy Dirks said. “We just can’t get anything rolling offensively. Tomorrow, that’s what we’re looking forward to.”

Sanchez held the San Francisco Giants to just six hits and two runs through seven innings. Joaquin Benoit and Phil Coke would both pitch scoreless innings, as well. The trio combined for 12 strikeouts, the eighth time the Tigers have done that this postseason — a new MLB record.

But that didn’t matter a whit, considering the fact that the Tigers couldn’t score to save their lives. Their streak of shutout innings — dating back to Jhonny Peralta’s ninth-inning home run in Game 1

“We’ve been able to match them pitching, but we just haven’t been able to get the hits,” said catcher Alex Avila.

And match, Sanchez did.

With the exception of the second inning, when he got ahead of himself, trying to throw too hard, and do too much, he matched the Giants’ Ryan Vogelsong, pitch-for-pitch.

“I do the best I can. I move my ball. I tried to be ahead in the count. Just one inning, just one inning changed everything. It passed for a bad moment for hitters,” Sanchez said. “But nothing is over. I say yesterday nothing over so we can continue playing. We can just play hard to the end.”

Sanchez would hand Hunter Pence a four-pitch leadoff walk in the second inning, and would pay after Pence — who stole second and went to third on a pitch Sanchez sailed past Avila to the backstop — trotted home on Gregor Blanco’s rocket triple to the gap in right-center field.

Brandon Crawford made it 2-0 with an RBI single that blooped into center field in front of Austin Jackson, who awkwardly tried to play it on one hop, rather than diving.

In all, it would be a 31-pitch inning for Sanchez.

“You can’t (explain it). I think that second inning, he started to overthrow it a little bit, and he made the right adjustment. Sometimes, that just happens. You want to do so well for your team, you just kind of lose your release point. He just started to overthrow there, and he made the adjustment,” catcher Alex Avila said. “I don’t think it was nerves or anything. I think he just tried to overthrow a little bit.”

After that blip, he’d retire 15 of the next 18 batters he’d face, keeping it a 2-0 game through the top of the seventh. He’d be done after 117 pitches in seven innings, striking out eight.

“Well, I thought he was probably over‑competing a little bit early, and then he settled in and was absolutely terrific, and that’s why I let him finish that inning,” manager Jim Leyland said. “I thought he deserved to be out there. He was competing his fanny off. He was absolutely tremendous. We got tremendous pitching effort, but we've been shut out for 18 innings, so it's pretty hard to win a game.”

As good as Sanchez was, he’d be outdueled by one of this postseason’s best in Vogelsong.

The one-time journeyman — who resurrected his career in Japan — had been stellar for the Giants this postseason, going 2-0 with a 1.42 ERA before Saturday’s game. He’d lower that to 1.09, the lowest ERA recorded by any pitcher with a minimum of 24 postseason innings pitched since Orel Hersheiser’s 1.05 mark in 1988.

“It’s the type of game you like to win because of how close it was, and both pitchers were on top of their game,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said.

While the Giants’ pitching is obviously a key to the three runs allowed in three games — and the first back-to-back shutouts thrown by any World Series staff since the 1966 Orioles — the defense backing those pitchers up has been pivotal.

Left fielder Gregor Blanco — who plated the go-ahead run in Saturday’s Game 3 with a second-inning triple — has made a number of sensational plays with his glove.

Two diving catches in Game 1 to rob Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera.

The start of the relay in Game 2 that nailed Fielder at the plate, trying to score from first base on a Delmon Young double.

And he made a running grab in foul territory in the ninth inning of Game 3 to help seal the win.

“I’ll tell you, it’s a critical part of the game. That’s our strength, pitching and defense. They’ve done a great job. Blanco, just a tremendous job he’s doing out in left field, including in the ninth, making that catch,” Bochy said. “Defense can win games for you, and I thought it did tonight.”

The Giants also turned two double plays to snuff out potential Tigers rallies, but they seem to make every little routine play, as well.

“A lot of times those things go a little bit unnoticed, you know great plays, things like that. A catcher blocking the ball with a guy on third. A lot of times, those things go unnoticed, and they definitely have saved runs by great plays,” Avila said. “That’s a credit to them.”

Email Matthew B. Mowery at and follow him on Twitter @matthewbmowery. Text keyword “Tigers” to 22700 to get updates sent to your phone. Msg & data rates may apply. Text HELP for help. Text STOP to cancel.


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