Detroit Tigers pitcher Anibal Sanchez kisses the ball after striking out Atlanta Braves' Reed Johnson in the eighth inning of a baseball game in Detroit, Friday April 26, 2013. Sanchez struck out 17 in eight innings.
DETROIT — The 35,000-plus fans at Comerica Park stood and let loose in full throat, not so much hoping but waiting for history as Tigers starter Anibal Sanchez prepared to deliver his 121st and final pitch.
The result was as predictable as Detroit’s 10-0 victory over the Braves was not — a swing and a miss.
Sanchez punched out Dan Uggla with a 2-2 curveball, then doffed his hat to a crowd that knew it had witnessed a performance unlike any other in the franchise’s 120-year run. It was the right-hander’s 17th strikeout, surpassing the club-record mark set previously by Mickey Lolich in 1969.
“Amazing that I can do that for this team,” Sanchez said afterward. “You think about 100 years [of history].”
On a night in which Detroit (11-10) connected with about everything and the visitors did anything but, the Tigers looked like the best team in baseball and Sanchez the best pitcher.
All it took was a visit from the heretofore best team — and best pitcher — to show it.
A Tigers lineup that had been limited to three runs or less in six of their last seven games unchained for eight runs against Paul Maholm, the game’s ERA leader, while Sanchez whitewashed the blistering Braves (15-7) over eight innings.
It was the kind of day where dyed-in-the-wool vets simply shrug their shoulders and say, “That’s baseball.”
After a cold, wet, and gray week, the temperature Friday climbed into the 50s, sunshine greeted the first pitch, and a bleak month for the Tigers brightened considerably.
The night began with Sanchez (3-1) telling his catcher, as first-time batterymate Brayan Pena later recalled, “Just enjoy the game. Trust me, and you’re going to have a lot of fun.”
Neither could have known how much, and that went for the entire roster.
Up and down the lineup, the Tigers pummeled Maholm, who began the season with a 25-plus inning scoreless streak and had a 0.94 ERA. They batted around in the third and fourth innings, with reserve left-fielder Matt Tuiasosopo’s three-run home run to left in the fourth the biggest shot on a night filled with them. Maholm allowed eight runs on 10 hits in just 3 2/3 innings.
All the while, Atlanta and a lineup that led the majors with 35 homers could not touch Sanchez.
In command of four pitches — a low-90s fastball, slider, curveball, and changeup — the 29-year-old struck out Uggla and Justin Upton in the first inning, then struck out the side in the second. Batters flailed at pitches in the dirt and swung straight through others, no one having an answer as Sanchez added at least two “Ks” to the mounting count on the scoreboard in seven of the eight innings.
Sanchez, who has yet to allow more than two earned runs this this season, threw 84 of his 121 pitches for strikes while allowing five hits. Pena said he could call any pitch with confidence.
He matched his career-high with 14 strikeouts through seven innings, then struck out the side in the eighth — first retiring Juan Francisco and Reed Johnson to match the mark set by the legendary Lolich, then Uggla for the record.
“You can’t really get any better than that,” manager Jim Leyland said.
In theory, he could have. A shot at tying the majors’ record of 20 strikeouts was within reach had Leyland allowed Sanchez to return for the ninth inning. But the manager later said he wanted no part of extending Sanchez so long this early in the season.
Sanchez would have to settle for a performance rivaled only by his no-hitter with the Marlins in 2006. After his final pitch, he and Pena embraced in the dugout. “I can’t believe I was catching you tonight,” Pena said.
EXTRA INNINGS: Outfielder Andy Dirks missed his second straight game with a sore right knee, while reliever Phil Coke was unavailable with a strained groin. Leyland classified both as day-to-day. ... It gets no easier for the Tigers’ suddenly warming bats, with right-hander Kris Medlen and lefty Mike Minor following Maholm in the Braves’ rotation. Medlen’s 1.20 ERA since last season’s All-Star break leads the majors, while Minor’s 2.08 ERA is second. Maholm, the straggler of the bunch, was fifth with a 2.45 ERA. ... The teams will wear throwback threads today as part of Negro League weekend, with the Tigers honoring the Detroit Stars and the Braves nodding to the Atlanta Black Crackers. Among the former Negro Leaguers to be recognized this weekend include infielder Ron “Schoolboy” Teasley, whose 11-year career included stops with the Toledo Crawfords, Toledo Cubs, and Toledo Rays.
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