Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Anibal Sanchez throws against the Boston Red Sox in the fourth inning during Game 1 of the American League championship series Saturday in Boston. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
BOSTON — Anibal Sanchez and four Detroit Tigers relievers came within two outs of the first combined no-hitter in postseason history, striking out 17 to beat the Boston Red Sox 1-0 Saturday night in the AL championship series opener.
Boston was hitless until Daniel Nava had clean single to center field off Joaquin Benoit with one out in the ninth. Stephen Drew followed Nava and flied out to right and, with the potential tying run on second, Xander Bogaerts hit a game-ending popout to shortstop.
Sanchez struck out 12 — including a record-tying four in the first inning — but also walked a season-high six and was pulled after six innings and 116 pitches. Al Alburquerque, Jose Veras, Drew Smyly and Benoit stretched the no-hitter into the ninth before Nava ended their bid for the third postseason no-hitter ever.
That won’t matter to the Tigers, who took a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series. Boston’s Clay Buchholz will face major league wins leader Max Scherzer in Game 2 on Sunday night.
Jhonny Peralta had an RBI single off Jon Lester in the sixth for the game’s only run. Peralta, who missed most of August and September while serving a 50-game suspension for violating baseball’s drug rules, was taunted with chants of “Steroids!” and “User!” as he looped a single to center to bring home Miguel Cabrera.
It was a day for pitching in the playoffs — St. Louis beat the Dodgers 1-0 in the NLCS.
“That tells you the quality of pitching in the postseason,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. “We’ve got to do a lot better with our opportunities, but in this one we were able to hold on.”
Boston, the majors’ highest-scoring team during the regular season, was shut out at Fenway Park in the postseason for the first time in 95 years.
The AL’s regular-season ERA champion, Sanchez loaded the bases in the sixth on three walks. But he struck out Stephen Drew to end the inning, coming off the mound with a celebratory arm pump and high leg kick.
Alburquerque pitched a perfect seventh, Veras got two and Smyly retired David Ortiz on a harmless fly ball to center to end the eighth. Drew kept the score close for Boston in the bottom of the eighth, racing into shallow center field to make a juggling, over-the-shoulder catch on Prince Fielder’s looper with runners on second and third.
Benoit struck out Mike Napoli to start the ninth before Nava singled to end the no-hit bid.
In all, Lester gave up six hits and a walk, striking out four in 6 1-3 innings.
Two nights after Justin Verlander took a no-hit bid into the seventh to finish off Oakland in the AL division series, Sanchez followed in similar fashion. His four strikeouts in the first inning — thanks to a third-strike wild pitch to Shane Victorino — tied the major league record for a postseason game set by the Cubs’ Orval Overall in the 1908 World Series.
It’s the first time in baseball postseason history a team has had back-to-back games in which its starting pitcher had a no-hitter through five innings.
On a brisk night with the wind blowing in from center, the Tigers got the only run they needed in the sixth after Cabrera drew a one-out walk and moved to second when Prince Fielder was hit by a pitch. Victor Martinez hit a sharp grounder to short for the force at second, but he beat the relay throw to first by inches to keep the inning alive.
Peralta then knocked a 2-2 pitch to center to score Cabrera from third.
Detroit threatened when Martinez doubled to lead off the fifth, but he was caught off second base on Omar Infante’s sharp grounder to first. Alex Avila singled, and Infante took third when Victorino bobbled the ball in right.
On Jose Iglesias’ grounder, third baseman Will Middlebrooks threw the ball home to retire the lead runner. Austin Jackson flied out to right, ending the inning.