The Detroit Tigers yielded just one hit to the Boston Red Sox and claimed a 1-0 victory on Saturday evening in Game 1 of the ALCS at Fenway Park.
Anibal Sanchez made history by tossing six no-hit innings for Detroit and battled his way out of multiple jams with outstanding power pitching.
The 29-year-old Sanchez could not finish the game because he had thrown 116 pitches upon his exit, but he made up for six walks by striking out 12 Red Sox—including four in the first inning.
It was a thrilling pitchers' duel between Sanchez and Red Sox starter Jon Lester, who performed well in his own right in yielding just one run on six hits in 6.1 innings while striking out four.
Despite the demonstrated prowess of the starting hurlers, this was a somewhat surprising outcome.
Boston and Detroit ranked first and second, respectively, in runs scored during the regular season, but the visitors were victorious in this low-scoring affair.
The key sequence that turned the tide in the Tigers' favor came in the top of the sixth. After superstar Miguel Cabrera drew a one-out walk, Prince Fielder was hit by a pitch. Victor Martinez then hit a dribbler in the infield, which the Red Sox failed to convert into a double play.
With Martinez and Cabrera at the corners and two outs, Jhonny Peralta came to the dish and socked an RBI single on a 2-2 offering from Lester, breaking the scoreless tie.
Lester shouted out in frustration after the blooper landed in front of Boston center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury. Part of it had to be the modest contact Peralta made, but Boston's typically high-octane lineup had not provided the southpaw with any support, either.
In the bottom of the sixth, though, Sanchez walked three batters and found himself in a based-loaded, two-out jam.
However, he ended his night with a bang, as Stephen Drew struck out swinging.
The strikeout barrage continued when Tigers reliever Al Alburquerque retired the side in a perfect seventh inning, which included two more punch-outs.
Former AL MVP Dustin Pedroia had drawn two prior walks from Sanchez, but struck out against Jose Veras after Shane Victorino had done the same before him.
David Ortiz hit just the third Boston ball that left the infield all evening off Drew Smyly, but flew out to center field well shy of the wall to end the eighth.
The Tigers threatened to add insurance in the top of the ninth, but Fielder was robbed of a two-run single thanks to a spectacular over-the-shoulder-catch by Drew at shortstop.
Daniel Nava finally broke the hitless drought by singling for Boston in the ninth off of Joaquin Benoit, putting the tying run aboard with one out.
Benoit forced Drew to fly out, but pinch runner Quintin Berry stole second base to move into scoring position. Unfortunately, Xander Bogaerts couldn't capitalize, popping out to ex-Red Sox shortstop Jose Iglesias to end it.
Here is a look at some player grades for this hard-fought first game.
Anibal Sanchez, SP, Detroit Tigers: A+
Sanchez's excellent showing was an admirable bounce-back after yielding three home runs in his previous start.
In such a hostile environment, he was able to maintain command of the zone enough to pull out clutch pitch time and again in fanning foolish-looking Red Sox batters.
This gives the Tigers incredible leverage for the rest of the series, with two of their high-profile pitchers in Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander still to take the mound in Games 2 and 3, respectively.
Jon Lester, SP, Boston Red Sox: A-
As brilliant as Boston's ace was, he couldn't hit for the AL East winners.
Lester was more consistent control-wise than Sanchez, and can't even be blamed for the lone run he yielded. A quicker turned-two off of Martinez's weak contact would have ended the sixth inning.
Jhonny Peralta, RF, Detroit Tigers: A+
During the FOX television broadcast, it was mentioned that manager Jim Leyland would live with Peralta's questionable fielding ability and how he'd handle the unpredictability of the Green Monster behind him just to have his bat in the lineup.
That strategy paid off in a big way for Detroit. Peralta was the only Tiger to have multiple hits, going 3-for-4 on the evening with two doubles and the game-winning RBI.
Red Sox Batting Order: F
It's harsh, and it doesn't even feel good to give Boston such a low mark given the talent across the board. That was the grim reality on Saturday, though.
Not being able to get hits is one thing—virtuoso pitching performances can drive any team to playoff success.
What was most disappointing, however, was how the Red Sox came up short in so many situations when Sanchez gifted them a plethora of walks—and two wild pitches.