Sanchez feels at home in postseason road start
Right-hander allows two runs over 6 1/3 in first playoff test
OAKLAND -- Anibal Sanchez was a long way from Miami. Being on the opposite coast had nothing to do with it.
When the Tigers acquired him from the Marlins in the last week of July, he was relishing the chance to pitch in a playoff race before raucous crowds. He had plenty of chances in Detroit. Game 3 of the American League Division Series against the A's at the Coliseum was his chance on the road.
It was like nothing he had experienced before. And he loved it.
It was loud enough that he said he couldn't hear his fielders, and it was going from the first pitch. It was a roar after two hits and a walk put the A's ahead three batters into Sanchez's outing and seemingly put Sanchez on the ropes.
Pitching coach Jeff Jones and Gerald Laird visited the mound after Yoenis Cespedes' RBI single to try to give Sanchez a minute to regroup. How much he heard of their pep talk is up for debate, but the message was there.
"I was just trying to tell him to keep making pitches," Laird said. "'You're one pitch away from a double-play ball,' and he was able to get a double-play ball in the first inning to get going. And I think after that he settled in."
He never quieted the crowd, but he quieted Oakland's offense, giving the Tigers a fighting chance even after Seth Smith's solo homer in the fifth inning. On a night when they could have been out of it early, Sanchez's performance kept the potential tying run no further away than the on-deck circle.
It's a team game, and never more apparent than in the postseason. But in this case, Sanchez did his part.
No pitcher in Tigers history had pitched at least 6 1/3 innings with two runs or fewer in his postseason debut and taken the loss, according to research on baseball-reference.com. It's not the way Sanchez wanted to get his name into Tigers postseason history, but it's what he's got.
"He pitched an excellent game for us, there's no question about that," manager Jim Leyland said. "He gave us more than a chance to win. They pitched a little better than we did tonight. It's pretty simple. But I thought Sanchez was fantastic."
Part of the adjustment Sanchez made was physical, but not with his mechanics. He had never pitched in Oakland during his career. When he warmed up on the bullpen mound in foul territory, it was different than the regular mound. Others, including Justin Verlander, have noted that in the past.
"I come from the bullpen and the bullpen is not straight," Sanchez said. "And you go to the mound and it's straight. But I made my adjustment after the second inning and did my job."
Once Sanchez's defense helped him overcome a leadoff single in the second inning, from an off-balance throw by Miguel Cabrera to an over-the-shoulder catch by Andy Dirks to Laird throwing out Derek Norris trying to steal second, Sanchez found a rhythm, retiring nine consecutive A's in the process to take a 1-0 game into the fifth.
He not only had a darting breaking ball to go with his mid-90s fastball, but he had an ability to pound the strike zone with them. He put three consecutive third-inning hitters in 0-2 counts before retiring them. After falling behind all five first-inning batters, he threw first-pitch strikes to eight straight hitters, then led off the fifth by getting Josh Donaldson to fly out to right.
"With this team, you have to miss [bats] a lot," Sanchez said. "You have to miss a lot, but you have to throw strikes. That's what I did."
That's what Sanchez was trying to do when he got to a 2-2 count on Smith, the one hitter in Oakland's lineup with extensive success against him from their time in the National League -- Sanchez in Miami, Smith in Colorado.
Sanchez threw back-to-back curveballs to put Smith in a two-strike count, but didn't like his chances going to it again. He shook off signs to get to a fastball, hoping to put one down and in where he could get a swing and miss.
"Yeah, we talked about it [later] in the dugout," Laird said. "He thought he threw quite a few breaking pitches to him and thought he could get a fastball by him. ... He just kind of left it a little too much [over the] plate and down, and he put a good swing on it."
Said Smith: "He threw a cutter in and a couple of curveballs away and it's 2-2 and he tried the throw a hip-shot sinking fastball and left it over the plate and I was able to hit the ball well."
That was it for the damage. That was all that was needed. It wasn't the result Sanchez wanted, but it was the postseason experience he had waited years for.
"It's very fun," Sanchez said. "That's the fans. I've never been here. The A's have very good fans. It's really fun when you hear a lot of them. You can't hear anything from your teammates. You just hear fans yelling. But it's really fun."