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I thought I’d do something a little bit different for game number “123”. The following are some of my thoughts as play develops throughout the game.

Pregame

Anibal Sanchez will take the mound for his fifth outing as a member of the Detroit Tigers. He’s way better than the 7.97 ERA he’s put up since joining the team, although his secondary numbers have been concerning. His strikeoute rate is down by nearly two and a half K’s per nine innings, and his walk rate and home run rate are both well up from their previous Miami levels.

I’m certain that bad luck and random variation explain a good bit of his poor performance, but there’s also no doubt that he’s contributed to the struggle by just plain pitching poorly. He was acquired to be a solid number three type starter, and the team will need him to be just that as they begin the stretch run toward October. I would think that now’s a good time for him to start his turnaround.

First Inning

Wow. Omar Infante almost played his way to an error right off the bat. Letting the speedy Rajai Davis to reach base to being the game wouldn’t have been the way help build up Sanchez’s confidence on the mound. Thankfully Infante was able stay with the ball after allowing it to glance off his glove and record the out – didn’t look like it was by more than a half a step.

Fantastic job by Sanchez to finish out the half inning with a strikeout of Colby Rasmus and a (relatively) lazy fly ball from Edwin Encarnacion. Sanchez is throwing strikes, which is great to see, but he’s not necessarily commanding the zone.

The Tigers go 1-2-3 in the bottom of the first. They didn’t particularly show any patience at the plate which is a bit disappointing after last night’s eight walk, zero strikeout game.

 

Second Inning

 

Here we go again. After getting the leadoff man to ground out, Sanchez has allowed a double and a walk to put two runners on. These are the points of the game where he’s let the wheels come off.

Well, it’s great to see the opponent “threaten but fail to score”. Sanchez induces a fly out and a ground out to escape the early jam. Again, he’s not really commanding the strike zone yet – hopefully he can find that good feel of the strikezone.

And it’s a second straight 1-2-3 inning for the bats. It shouldn’t look this easy for Aaron Laffey, but it does seem like mediocre lefties have stymied the Tigers far too often this season.

Third Inning

It feels like this game is zooming by. Maybe because I’m actually taking the time to write out my thoughts during the action, or maybe it’s because the pace is actually pretty quick. Sanchez quickly sends the Jays down in order on two soft grounders and a routine fly ball to finish off his third scoreless inning of work.

Andy Dirks finally displays some patience to work a 3-1 count… and he draws the walk. I’m not loving the scruffy-looking hair hanging out from under his helmet, but I’ll take the leadoff walk.

And just like that Dirks is erased on a broken-bat double play from Jeff Baker. That quickly changes the feel of this inning. Alex Avila goes down on strikes, and the Tigers are suddenly out of the inning. A quick check of the box score shows that Laffey has needed only 31 pitches to get through three innings.

Fourth Inning

Edwin Encarnacion flys out to start the top of the fourth, but I didn’t like to see Sanchez leave that ball up in the zone with an 0-2 count. You can get away there with a fastball at times, but it’s too hittable of a location.

Whew, too near-homers back-to-back for Toronto, one goes off the wall for a long single, and Andy Dirks made a fantastic catch on the warning track, but it’s a troubling sign from Sanchez even though no major damage was done. They appeared to be hit on two more pitches up in the zone.

The Tigers get out of the inning on a soft grounder up the middle. I’m not really sure how one grounds out on a breaking ball that’s hung belt-high, but Yorvit Torrealba just did it. The results have been good thus far, but this just feels like a game that could get away from Sanchez at any moment. Perhaps I’m just jaded after his rough start with the team.

Omar Infante just legged out a triple, but I have no idea how. The replay showed that Davis failed to play the bouncing ball cleanly in the left field gap, and that allowed Infante to beat the throw to third base. Infante decides not to come home on a ball that squirts away from Torrealba; he may have been able to make it home, but with Cabrera at the plate it’s probably a safe decision not to force the issue. It’s proven to definitely be a good decision now when Laffey follows it up with a bouncer well in front of the plate that zooms past his catcher – it’s an easy jog home for Omar.

Miguel Cabrera ends up taking the walk after falling behind 0-2 initially. Prince is at the plate, so this could turn into a big inning with the one run already in.

That’s what I get for opening my big mouth. Prince grounds out to second base, and the Jays turn two to get out of the inning. At least they finally made Laffey work a little bit. 1-0 Tigers.

Fifth Inning

I didn’t notice it earlier in the game, but Sanchez is throwing pretty hard, he’s been hitting 94-95 here in the fifth inning. This was easily his best “stuff” inning so far today. He got Mike McCoy to strike out swinging on a good slider that darted down and out of the zone, and then got Adeiny Hechavarria to swing and miss on two firm, well-located 94 MPH fastballs. It was the first time tonight that I felt like he was using his stuff to attack the zone and the hitter.

Delmon Young singles the opposite way – this is apparently now an eight game hitting streak. I never considered the fact that Delmon could put something together that could be considered a hit streak.

I don’t really love the hit-and-run call with Dirks at the plate as it seems like Young is the type of guy that could ruin the whole thing with a base running blunder. Dirks was forced to swing at a bad pitch and weakly grounds out so the play amounts to a successful sac bunt (which I also dislike).

Jeff Baker knocks a single to right field so Jim Leyland looks like a genius (and I look like a fool for criticizing him) as Delmon hustles home on the play. 2-0 Tigers.

Sixth Inning

Well, Sanchez apparently didn’t carry over his good feel for his stuff to the sixth inning. He leads off the frame by walking the free-swinging Rajai Davis on four pitches.

It’s turning into a crazy inning for Sanchez. After issuing the leadoff walk, he bounced back to punch out Rasmus, but then tried to pick-off Davis and threw the ball into the outfield.

Things get worse ad Dirks misplays a liner in right fieldoff the bat of Edwin Encarnacion. He probably wasn’t going to be able to hold the runner at third base, but instead of one run in and two outs, the Tigers now face a run in, a man on second, and only one out.

Jeff Mathis in to pinch hit for Toronto. Something must be wrong with first baseman David Cooper because I can’t imagine a scenario where using Mathis as a pinch hitter would be a good idea. Mathis pops out to Avila in foul territory, and then Sanchez gets Moises Sierra to strike out swinging. A very solid finish to a questionable inning. 2-1 Tigers.

After Austin Jackson reached base to start the bottom half of the inning (still waiting on the hit/error scoring decision, looks like an error), Omar Infante layed down a sacrifice bunt to move him over to second. I understand that one run could be huge here, but why bunt in front of Cabrera (who is now being issued an intentional pass)? If there’s any combination that can get a run to score from first it’s Jackson-Cabrera; they’re the perfect combination of speed and power.

Prince Fielder drives in the run with a single to left field. Jackson appeared to be out at the plate, but Mathis couldn’t hold onto the ball at the plate. So Leyland wasn’t wrong to call for the bunt, but I’m still not convinced he was right either. It could have been – and still could be – a huge inning. Runners on first and second with one out. Peralta and Young each ground out to end the inning, and the Tiger settle for their third one-run inning in a row. 3-0 Tigers.

Seventh Inning

Sanchez is back out for the seventh inning after throwing only 86 pitches so far. I’m still not 100% comfortable with how he’s pitched thus far, but I won’t complain about the results. Yet. (As I type this Torrealba loops a bloop single to lead off the inning, not really Sanchez’s fault there.)

Sanchez’s fastball seems to be back in the 91-92 range where he’s been working most often. I’m not sure what caused the uptick a few innings ago. A couple of nice changeups gets Kelly Johnson to strike out swinging.

A little grounder to the right side gets Torrealba to third base. Of course putting the runner on the move works out brilliantly for the opposition as Infante was ranging over to cover the base, leaving his position vacant in the process. And now a stolen base puts the tying run on second base. Phil Coke and Brayan Villarreal are warming in the pen, but Anibal isn’t necessarily pitching poorly this inning, the hits haven’t been hard. He’ll probably need a strikeout here though if he hopes to strand the runners.

A deep fly ball out scores one run and moves the tying run to third base. Leyland jogs out to the mound to get Sanchez.

It turned out to be a pretty good outing for Sanchez. I felt he was struggling with his command early on, but he battled through it and put together some solid innings. Five of his six strikeouts came in the last two and two-thirds innings of work. Brayan Villarreal will take over with the tying run on third base.

No big deal for Villarreal who gets a ground out on two pitches to keep Sanchez in line for his second win as a Tiger.

I hate the sacrifice bunt, but I do love a bunt for a base hit. Dirks lays down a beauty to lead off the bottom of the seventh with an infield single. Laffey exits the game, and we once again find out that Rod Allen is a “veggies guy”. Thanks ACE.

Quintin Berry pich hits for Baker and attempts to bunt, falls behind 0-2, then strikes out swinging. Par for the course there. There’s no excuse for a fast player that’s such a bad hitter to not be able to bunt competently, and Berry is a horrible bunter.

Alex Avila draws a walk after a one-million pitch at-bat (with Dirks running on every pitch). Runners are on first and second, and the only out is the one the Tigers gave up on Berry’s failed bunt plate appearance.

Austin Jackson and Omar Infante fan as the next two hitters, so the Tigers leave two runners on.

Eighth Inning

Villarreal’s day is done after only two pitches; Joaquin Benoit comes out to pitch the eighth inning. He immediately makes Rasums look foolish with tree swinging strikes, two of which came on excellent-looking changeups.

Now things are getting interesting. Benoit allowed a walk to Encarnacion, struck out Mathis, and then saw a bloop single fall in just beyond Infante’s glove in right field. That puts the tying run at third (and the go-ahead run at second) with two outs. The walk obviously wasn’t good, but Benoit seemingly has all three of his pitches working tonight, despite finding himself in some trouble here.

No harm, no foul I guess. Torrealba flies out to finish the inning. The Tigers maintain the one-run lead, but it would be nice to hand the ball to Jose Valverde in the ninth with a larger cushion than that.

The fans let out a cheer when Miguel Cabrera hit the ball, but the right fielder had to come in to catch the fly ball. Fans at the ballpark at terrible at judging where those are going to land.

Ohh man. After a Prince Fielder walk, Jhonny Peralta has lined two hard hits just foul at third base. Then he strikes out. Delmon Young steps up with two outs. Looks like Papa Grande will be protecting a one-run lead. And he strikes out. Pretty much called that one.

Ninth Inning

It’s the bottom third of the order due up to face Valverde. I’m still not comfortable with Valverde late in games, but he’s quietly put together a solid stretch for a while. And that’s a good start. Somehow Kelly Johnson was able to stay back on the 1-2 splitter and serve a liner to right field, but Dirks was right there to haul it in. It was a great pitch in a great location, but off the bat it looked like it might fall in for a hit.

Mike McCoy quickly follows up with a pop-out on the infield. This save opportunity looks like it’s going to be converted successfully.

But Omar Visquel has to make life difficult. He lifts a two-strike pitch softly into left for a hit. Wow. Visquel attempts to steal second base and gets thrown out easily to end the game. It wasn’t at all close. Apparently he stumbled out of the block.

That’s a Tigers win!