BOSTON - When a pitcher is particularly sharp early in an outing, he often is said to have "no-hit stuff.''
And when he is off, he might "walk the ballpark.''
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Anibal Sanchez combined both in a hard-to-fathom outing in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series against the Red Sox Saturday night.
The Tigers righthander walked six and struck out 12 in six no-hit innings and nearly was part of the first combined no-hitter in postseason history.
That possibility ended with one out in the ninth when Daniel Nava singled off Joaquin Benoit after fouling off three two-strike pitches. But Benoit, the Tigers' fifth pitcher, hung on for a 1-0 victory in front of 38,210 stunned fans at Fenway Park. They saw the Red Sox strike out 17 times and blamed much of that on plate umpire Joe West.
Sanchez, of course, was the most responsible.
"His stuff was terrific," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said.
Sanchez was removed after 116 pitches, striking out the final batter he faced, Stephen Drew, with the bases loaded in the sixth.
"The win's more important than the no-hitter at this point," said Sanchez, who became the fourth pitcher to throw at least six hitless innings in a postseason game.
Sanchez said it was time for a "fresh arm" because of his pitch count and Leyland said, "I wasn't really worried about a no-hitter."
His concern was holding the slimmest of leads in a ballpark in which it's tough to hold any lead. Said Leyland, "You almost feel like you're behind in this ballpark with one run."
Benoit inserted some drama in the ninth.
After Quintin Berry pinch ran for Nava, Benoit got behind Drew 2-and-0 before he flied out to right. With Xander Bogaerts at the plate, Berry stole second. Bogaerts got ahead 2-and-1 before popping a 3-and-2 pitch to shortstop to end it.
The Red Sox struck out at least once in each of the nine innings, and their players, and the crowd, got on West throughout. Boston manager John Farrell, however, wasn't going there.
"To say umpiring was the reason why we didn't get a hit until the ninth inning, that would be a little shortsighted on my part," Farrell said. "I can't say that was a biased strike zone by any means."
Red Sox starter Jon Lester also pitched brilliantly, allowing one run and six hits in 61/3 innings.
The Tigers finally broke through in the sixth. After Torii Hunter grounded out, Miguel Cabrera walked and Lester hit Prince Fielder with a pitch. Victor Martinez hit a grounder to third that looked as if it would end in a 5-4-3 double play, but he just beat the relay throw to first, extending the inning. Jhonny Peralta, serenaded with chants of "Steroids! Steroids!'' -- he was one of the 13 players in August to accept a 50-game suspension as a part of MLB's Biogenesis investigation -- dumped a 2-and-2 curveball into center for one of his three hits and a 1-0 lead.
Sanchez's erratic, not to mention odd, night started in a 26-pitch first when he walked one and struck out four. That was made possible when Shane Victorino struck out on a ball in the dirt but reached on what was scored a wild pitch.
Sanchez became the first pitcher to strike out four batters in a postseason inning since Orval Overall of the Cubs in 1908. Sanchez also became the first Tigers pitcher to record a four-strikeout inning, period.
Sanchez walked three, though not consecutively, in the bottom of the sixth, loading the bases with two outs. But he struck out Drew swinging, his 12th strikeout of the night, accentuating it with a twisting fist-pump.
A far bigger celebration, involving the entire team, would come about 11/2 hours later.
"This series isn't about throwing a no-hitter or something like that," Sanchez said. "Just put up zeros inning by inning. It's more important."