After two series losses on a lengthy road trip, the Tigers certainly enjoyed the return home Thursday night as Anibal Sanchez recovered from a wobbly start to pitch into the eighth and the Tigers beat the Royals, 4-1.
The Royals, of course, came into this series 7.5 games back of the Tigers and needing a series win at minimum to really keep the heat on the team atop the division. One could argue this is their biggest series in two decades, and the Royals came out swinging against Sanchez. The first two batters singled, but Sanchez induced a double play ball off the bat of Billy Butler, and it looked like he might escape the first inning unscathed. Alex Gordon, however, looped a single into right, and the Royals were up early.
That lead, though, would not last long. Austin Jackson got the day off and Jim Leyland inserted Andy Dirks into the leadoff spot. Dirks led off with a single, but the next two batters went quietly. Up stepped the much-maligned Prince Fielder, the subject of much media speculation lately, and he promptly hit a Jeremy Guthrie pitch into the bleachers in the deepest part of right-center field to give the Tigers the lead in the first.
Sanchez’s pitch count was up after a lengthy first inning, and he continued to pitch with some traffic on the bases early in the ballgame, not picking up many strikeouts. He pitched around trouble, though, and ended the fifth with a strikeout – and then everything really clicked. He struck out two in the sixth and two more in the seventh, and was relieved by Bruce Rondon with one out and one on in the eighth. It had initially looked as if Sanchez’s outing would be a shorter one, but he managed to get into the eighth, and that was huge considering the state of Detroit’s bullpen right now.
Meanwhile, the Tigers had given Sanchez a couple more runs to work with. Brayan Pena led off with a single, Jose Iglesias followed with a baffling bunt that got Pena forced at second, and then Andy Dirks doubled down the right field line to put runners at second and third. Torii Hunter and Miguel Cabrera followed with RBI singles to make it 4-1, which proved to be all Detroit’s staff needed. Rondon got them through the eighth, and Joaquin Benoit, pitching a day after a five-out save, walked one but allowed no runs in the ninth to close it out.
Dirks, who was scoffed at as a leadoff choice, laughed in everyone’s faces by going 4-for-4 with two runs scored, leading a 13 hit attack by the Tigers offense. They’ll try to really bury the Royals as the two teams face off in a split doubleheader tomorrow.