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Anibal Sanchez deserves attention, and now maybe he'll get it

By Danny Knobler | Baseball Insider

BOSTON -- You don't notice Anibal Sanchez until he does something special.

No, that's not right, because you barely notice Anibal Sanchez even when he does something special.

He pitched seven shutout innings in last year's American League Championship Series. He struck out 17 batters in a game this April. He won the American League ERA title this year.

Yet when we talked about the reasons the Tigers could beat the Red Sox in this ALCS, we began with Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer . . . and we skipped right past the guy who the Red Sox really couldn't hit.

"Obviously I've been a big name, and Max went 21-3," Verlander said Saturday night. "I mean, there's only so much room in the newspaper."

There's plenty of room here on the internet, which means there's time and space to recognize the guy who turned Game 1 of the ALCS in the Tigers' favor, with strikeout after strikeout and hitless inning after hitless inning.

This wasn't a "where did it come from?" kind of performance. It was a "why don't we ever mention this guy?" kind of performance.

"Without a doubt, he's got No. 1 stuff," Tigers catcher Alex Avila said. "His stuff, at times, is probably some of the nastiest stuff on the team. This was one of those nights when it was."

The Tigers have built their rotation with big-time "great stuff" pitchers, and this is the time of year it tends to pay off the most. Teams like the Red Sox build lineups that can grind out at-bats and wear down pitchers.

They eat up mediocre pitchers, who can't afford to fall behind in the count, because if they need to throw a strike, it ends up being a very hittable pitch.

"The only way to counteract it is to throw good stuff in the strike zone," Verlander said.

Sanchez, as he proved again Saturday, can do that. He wasn't always in the strike zone (as evidenced by his six walks and 116 pitches in six innings), but even when he fell behind, he never gave in.

"One thing that makes him so good is he's very unpredictable," Avila said. "We were trying to be as unpredictable as we could -- 2-0 sliders with two guys on, 3-1 changeups."

They didn't worry when it took Sanchez 26 pitches to get through his four-strikeout first inning, and another 25 to get through the two-walk second.

"Knowing the game is going to be tight, sometimes the pitch count goes out the window," Avila said. "If it takes 30 pitches to get out of an inning, so be it, in the playoffs. You've got to treat it like it's the eighth inning with the game on the line."

Sanchez said he simply tried not to miss in the middle of the plate, that he was willing to accept walks in order not to give in to a Red Sox lineup that scored the most runs in baseball this season.

Sanchez did manage to keep it to 10 pitches in the third, and again to 10 pitches in the fifth. He had just enough to get through the sixth, when he left the bases loaded by striking out Stephen Drew.

The Tigers had left-hander Drew Smyly and right-hander Al Alburquerque ready in the bullpen by that point, but manager Jim Leyland stuck with Sanchez against the left-handed hitting Drew, figuring that if he went to Smyly, the Red Sox would likely pinch hit with Jonny Gomes.

Sanchez ended up with his six no-hit innings, with 12 strikeouts. Alburquerque, Smyly and Jose Veras carried the no-hitter into the ninth, before Daniel Nava's single off closer Joaquin Benoit. The five Tigers pitchers combined for 17 strikeouts, just the third time in postseason history a team has fanned 17 times in a nine-inning postseason game.

Bob Gibson did it to the Tigers in the 1968 World Series. Kevin Brown did it (with one strikeout from Trevor Hoffman) against the Astros in the 1998 Division Series.

And now Sanchez and the Tigers.

You know, we really ought to write more about this guy.

"He flies under the radar, but I think he likes that," Torii Hunter said. "He's laid back."

If Sanchez likes flying under the radar, he's not in a bad place. Verlander and Scherzer get the attention, and Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder get plenty of it, too. The Tigers may be as star-studded a team as there is in baseball these days.

As good as he is, Sanchez never seems to get counted as one of those big stars.

He did get the Tigers' attention. They picked him up in a July 2012 trade with the Marlins, and they stretched their budget to spend $80 million to re-sign him as a free agent last December.

"Why don't you guys write about him?" Verlander asked late Saturday night.

We just did.

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