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MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Edge-of-your-seat Game 1 sets high bar for ALCS

Edge-of-your-seat Game 1 sets high bar for ALCS

Edge-of-your-seat Game 1 sets high bar for ALCS

BOSTON -- OK, they can't all be like this first one, can they? I'm not sure our hearts can take six more games like this.

Give us a little time to get our minds around everything that went on Saturday night as the Detroit Tigers beat the Boston Red Sox, 1-0, in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series.

If 1-0 seems like a nice, tidy score at the end of a nice, tidy game, guess again. This was a game of nooks and crannies, a game that offered everything a close postseason game is supposed to offer.

For instance, five Detroit Tigers pitchers throwing no-hit ball for 8 1/3 innings.

Yep, FIVE pitchers.

In Fenway Park.

In the playoffs.

Really.

ALDS
The problem is that the no-hitter never became a big deal in either dugout. The Tigers couldn't focus on it because they were clinging to a 1-0 lead. In this little ballpark, strange things sometimes happen.

Not only that, the Red Sox scored 57 more runs than any other Major League team this season. They do it with amazing plate discipline, by wearing out starting pitchers and getting deep into bullpens and watching the other team come undone. So even though the Tigers were flirting with history, it was the kind of game the Red Sox have come back to win again and again this season.

"You almost feel like you're behind," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said.

Wait, there's more.

Tigers starter Anibal Sanchez, the AL's ERA champion this season, opened the game with six very strange innings. Let's say right up front that his stuff is electric, some of the best in the game. He already has a no-hitter to his credit, seven years ago during his rookie season with the Marlins.

"He's got the Bugs Bunny changeup, a cutter, a slider," Tigers outfielder Torii Hunter said. "He's got a 97-mph fastball he can sneak right by you because you're waiting for all this other stuff. He's very intense."

On this day, though, Sanchez was so wild and so unpredictable that he almost got the no-hitter in spite of himself. In six innings, he struck out 12. He also walked six. And threw two wild pitches. Got that?

The Red Sox could never get a good read on him because he had trouble getting a read on himself. While he was throwing a six-inning no-hitter, the Red Sox had runners in scoring position in three of Sanchez's six innings.

It was that kind of evening. He could have thrown a postseason no-hitter. Or if the Red Sox get one hit to fall in, he might have had an ugly pitching line.

"His ball had so much action on it I don't even think he knew where some of them were going," Tigers catcher Alex Avila said. "Sometimes, I didn't."

A no-hitter by any other name ...

And yet when Sanchez needed to make a pitch, he made it. His stuff -- a 96-mph fastball, a knee-buckling slider and a changeup that's so slow it makes hitters look silly -- is as good as it gets.

If he only could have harnessed it. He needed 51 pitches to get through the first two innings and it looked like it was going to be a short night.

Yet, he kept going, and with everything jumbled, he threw changeups in fastball counts and fastballs in breaking-pitch counts. Why not? Got a better idea?

He had the Red Sox guessing wrong most of the night. One checked swing after another. Backwards glances at home-plate ump Joe West.

"When you keep David Ortiz off balance in the postseason, you must have pretty good stuff," Hunter said. "You're talking about [Dustin] Pedroia and David Ortiz and all those professional hitters over there. To have those guys off balance with all those checked swings, his stuff had to be moving like crazy."

The Tigers scored the only run of the game in the top of the sixth inning. But Sanchez had needed 88 pitches to get through five innings.

He got through one more, his best of the night. He got an infield grounder and two strikeouts, which is a nice way to finish things, except that he got them in between issuing three walks.

Finally, his night ended when he got Red Sox shortstop Stephen Drew on an unhittable 89-mph slider. As Drew swung and missed, the normally unflappable Avila leaped into the air and pounded the air with his fist.

"Sometimes, a little emotion is called for," he said.

Four relievers followed, and the no-hitter held up until Daniel Nava looped a single to center off Tigers closer Joaquin Benoit in the bottom of the ninth. Benoit quickly got the last two outs, and that was that.

In the end, it was just one game, and that's the thing both teams kept reminding themselves of. But it was as entertaining and as tense as a baseball game can get.

"That's baseball," Tigers ace Justin Verlander said. "This is a beautiful game. This is a lot of fun for us. I'm sure it was fun for the fans even though they lost. There was a lot of intense moments. I feel like I'm more tired watching these games than when I pitch 'em. It takes it out of you."

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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