DETROIT — Jim Leyland called the performance a dream.
Turns out, given a night in his office to sleep on it, Anibal Sanchez’s burst into Tigers history on Friday remained delightfully real.
“I just watched it in here, and I counted six swings in the dirt for strike three,” the manager said Saturday morning, still sprawled beneath a fleece blanket on the office couch that sometimes doubles as his bed when the Tigers play a day game after a night game. “That was as good as it gets. It pretty much says it all with — how long have the Tigers been playing? — that’s the most ever.”
A day after Sanchez struck out a club-record 17 batters, the magnitude of the feat came into further perspective.
How good was the right-hander? Sanchez became one of only three players to fan 17 hitters in eight innings or less since 1900, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
Randy Johnson, then with the Mariners, struck out 18 in a 3-2 loss to the Rangers in 1992 and 17 against Cincinnati in 1999. Minnesota’s Johan Santana punched out 17 against Texas in 2007. (Roger Clemens and Kerry Wood share the record for a nine-inning game with 20 strikeouts.)
Sanchez also pushed aside the record for strikeouts in an interleague game — surpassing the previous mark of 16 shared by Philadelphia’s Curt Schilling against the Yankees in 1997 and Boston’s Pedro Martinez against the Braves in 1999 — and, most importantly, established clubhouse bragging rights.
Sanchez, the first big-leaguer to strike out 17 since Toronto’s Brandon Morrow reached the mark in August, 2010, has a pelt the Tigers rotation’s more likely right-handed suspects do not. Max Scherzer struck out 15 last May to set the previous Comerica Park record. Ace Justin Verlander’s career-high is 14.
“We were joking after the game that Anibal is No. 1, I’m No. 2, and Ver is just average,” Scherzer told reporters.
Across the clubhouse, Verlander cracked back with a smile.
“That’s OK, I’ve got a few other things,” he said, biting his lip on a resume that includes a couple no-hitters, plus MVP and Cy Young honors.
WHIFF OF HISTORY: Could Sanchez and the Tigers threaten another bit of strikeout history?
Though only April, Detroit is on pace to dust the 2003 Cubs’ record for most strikeouts in a season. The Tigers have fanned 221 hitters through 22 games — the most by the franchise in April since at least 1921 — and are on pace to strike out more than 1,600 this season. The Chicago Cubs’ Kerry Wood, Mark Prior, and co. had 1,404 strikeouts in 2003.
If Verlander, Scherzer, and Sanchez stay healthy, the Tigers should flirt with the mark. They had a club-record 1,318 strikeouts last season, and that was with Sanchez arriving in late July.
This year, Scherzer (13.5 Ks per nine innings), Sanchez (11.0), and Verlander (9.2) are all among the American League’s strikeout leaders.
UNDER CONTROL: After Torii Hunter spoke to hundreds of children during a pregame event, one curious mind asked the Tigers outfielder how he controls himself when “bad things happen.”
“I’m working on it,” he said, laughing.
Hunter was soon put to the test.
He met with reporters after the game with a bandage wrapped around his bruised upper arm — the result of an up-and-in fastball that got away from Braves starter Kris Medlen in the fourth inning. Hunter, who said he raised his arm “to take it there instead of my pretty face,” briefly glared at Medlen before walking to first.
“When I looked at him, he was kind of like, ‘My bad,’ ” said Hunter, who insisted he was fine. “That kind of cleared the air.”
Besides, he reasoned, how could he charge the mound in front of the kids he just addressed?
“That would have sent a bad message,” he said. “So I calmed myself down.”