Born simultaneously during the McKinley Administration in 1901, the Boston Red Sox and Detroit Tigers played 1,996 games vs. one another over the last 113 years. Saturday night they faced each other in their first playoff game and it was spectacular. It had moments that paid homage to all 13 decades.
In the end, the Tigers were 1-0 winners and the bold, bearded Red Sox were red-faced, one-hit, 17-strikeout victims. Daniel Nava’s ninth-inning single was Boston’s only hit. Detroit’s Anibal Sanchez, Al Alburquerque, Jose Veras, Drew Smyly and Joaquin Benoit combined to smother the Red Sox and the slugging, sluggish Tiger batters managed to bleed Jon Lester for a winning run on a sixth-inning walk, a hit batsman, and a soft single to center by cheatin’ shortstop-turned-left fielder Jhonny Peralta.
Sadly, it took a ridiculous 3 hours, 56 minutes to play a nine-inning, one-run game that didn’t end until early Sunday morning when Red Sox rookie Xander Bogaerts popped up with the tying run on second and two outs in the ninth.
There was magic in the air at Olde Fenway. Nomar Garciaparra (who hated every minute of his final half-season with the John Henry Red Sox in 2004) threw out the ceremonial first pitch. Across the street from Fenway, and on the team’s official store website, you could buy an official, MLB stickered/authorized empty ALDS celebration champagne bottle for only $100. A small price to pay for a container that was emptied over Jonny Gomes’s combat helmet in the vaunted Tropicana Dome’s visitors’ clubhouse.
Sanchez’s outing was one for the ages as he became the first pitcher in hardball history to be lifted from a postseason game after throwing a no-hitter through six innings.
The Tiger righty was once property of the Red Sox. In the winter of 2005, when Theo Epstein was touring with Pearl Jam after quitting the Red Sox because of a fight with Larry Lucchino, Boston acting general managers Bill Lajoie and Jeremy Kapstein (the guy with the yellow headphones behind home plate every night) traded Sanchez to the Marlins. Few noticed Sanchez’s name in the trade. The big names in the deal were Hanley Ramirez, Josh Beckett, and Mike Lowell. Sanchez was a throw-in — a pitcher the Marlins “settled” for when they actually wanted young lefty Jon Lester.
Saturday night at the Fens, Sanchez and Lester hooked up in an ALCS Game 1 beauty. Lester threw 109 pitches in 6⅓ innings and gave up almost nothing — one run on six hits and one walk. Sanchez threw 116 pitches over six innings and gave up zilch. He fanned 12 and walked six.
“I just tried to be really aggressive,’’ said Sanchez. “It’s not about throwing a no-hitter. As long as you get zeros, inning by inning, that’s more important than the no-hitter at this point.’’
The first inning pretty much set the tone for the night. It was clear that 36-year veteran home plate umpire Joe West was going to impose his substantial will on this game and Country Joe did not disappoint. Sanchez struck out four Red Sox in the initial inning because Alex Avila couldn’t handle strike three against Shane Victorino. Sanchez became the first pitcher to fan four batters in a postseason inning since the immortal Orval Overall punched out a quartet of Tigers in the 1908 World Series. Who could ever forget it?
The Sox dugout was furious with West all night. Victorino was almost tossed from the on-deck circle when Jacoby Ellsbury fanned to finish the seventh.
“I can’t say there was any issue with the umpire,’’ said Sox manager John Farrell. “There might have been a couple of pitches that were pitcher’s pitches that went against us . . . but anytime we had a man on base he got a strikeout.’’
Sanchez needed more than 51 pitches to get through the first two innings. After six innings and 116 pitches, he handed the ball off to a quartet of relievers, all of whom did the job.
“The entire bullpen did a fantastic job,’’ said Tigers manager Jim Leyland. “The pitch count was high early. [Sanchez] gave us what we needed . . . I wasn’t really worried about a no-hitter. It would have been nice. We had several guys involved.’’
The Sox and the Tigers had players all over the bases, but scoring seemed impossible. Detroit’s cast of fatties demands that the Tigers hit four singles or a home run in order to cross home plate. Station to station. The Tigers are the Riverside Green Line of Major League Baseball.
The Red Sox are another story all together. They see pitches. They grind. They make games interminable. But they cannot score without a hit. And so they were unable to cross home plate even though eight of them reached base.
The Sox and Tigers are back at it again Sunday night. Likely Cy Young winner Max Scherzer will pitch for the Tigers. Tuesday the Sox face Justin Verlander, who was Koufaxian in Detroit’s ALDS win over Oakland.
No more Tampa Bay Rays. This is big-boy baseball. The Sox will need more than one hit if they want to sell authentic ALCS celebration champagne bottles before the World Series.