What if I told you the Tigers nearly threw a no-hitter at Fenway Park in the postseason?
In a memorable game one, Tiger pitching dominated. The staff allowed just one hit – a ninth inning blooper – and struck out 17 Red Sox in a 1-0 win to raise the curtain on the American League Championship Series.
The Tigers had their chances to make it more than one, though. They left two on in the first, and probably would have cashed in at least one run had Miguel Cabrera been healthy. They led off the fifth with a double from Jhonny Peralta, but promptly made two outs on the bases and left two more on. In the eighth, they loaded the bases with two out before Alex Avila flew out to deep center. In the ninth, the Tigers had second and third with one out against Koji Uehara but a Don Kelly strikeout and a spectacular defensive play by Stephen Drew kept them from adding on.
The only run came in the sixth, and it was Peralta – who has somehow become the most valuable Tiger position player over the past week and a half – who drove it in. With one out, Miguel Cabrera walked and Prince Fielder was hit by a pitch. Victor Martinez hit a soft grounder to short and, miraculously, beat out the double play, keeping the inning alive and moving Cabrera to third. Peralta then hit a 2-2 pitch into shallow center field – too shallow for Jacoby Ellsbury to make a play on. Cabrera scored and the Tigers were up 1-0.
As it turned out, that would be enough, because the Tigers didn’t let the Red Sox hit them for pretty much the entire night and Boston’s hitters spent most of their time complaining to Joe West about the admittedly inconsistent strike zone. Anibal Sanchez was wild early, and his pitch count flew over 50 after two innings, but the first inning made clear how good his stuff was on this particular night. He struck out four batters in one inning thanks to Alex Avila’s inability to block Shane Victorino’s swinging third strike. He pitched around a walk in that inning as well. Sanchez walked two more in the second and three more in the sixth. In between all of that, he struck out twelve – including Stephen Drew with the bases loaded – and did not allow a hit. His pitch count made it impossible, however, for him to pitch past the sixth.
Al Alburquerque picked up the slack in the seventh. He pitched a perfect inning, striking out two. Jose Veras faced two righties to open the eighth and struck them both out. Drew Smyly got Ortiz to fly out to center.
It was in the ninth when the Tigers finally gave up their first hit – a one out, 1-2 flare single to center by Daniel Nava. This put a man on, and this meant Tigers legend Quintin Berry got a pinch-running opportunity. Berry appeared to rattle Benoit a bit as he went 2-0 on Drew, but he got Drew to fly out to right for the second out. Berry did steal second, but Xander Bogaerts popped to short to end a wild one.
The win means the Tigers claim home field in the series and have to win three of their next six – five of which will be started by Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, and Anibal Sanchez – to reach the World Series for a second straight year. The concerns remain – the Tigers missed a lot of scoring opportunities, as the one run/nine hits combo would indicate. One run probably won’t beat the Red Sox again in this series. But the Tigers are now 1-0 up, and that’s a big deal.