BY NOAH TRISTER
AP Baseball Writer
DETROIT – Justin Verlander already lost. Doug Fister pitched gamely, but his fine effort wasn’t good enough either.
Now, with their World Series hopes slipping away, the Detroit Tigers turn to Anibal Sanchez – the least physically imposing member of their postseason rotation.
“We need to start over,” Sanchez said. “We need to forget what happened in San Francisco. I know we’ve got the talent. That’s why we’re here. We’ve got a pretty good team, so we’re going to fight it to the end.”
Sanchez was acquired to help the Tigers make the playoffs – they were in the middle of a tough AL Central race with the White Sox when he arrived in a deal with Miami shortly before the trade deadline.
The right-hander held up his end of the bargain, but now Detroit is playing for even higher stakes, and Saturday night’s start in Game 3 of the World Series against San Francisco might be his most important test yet.
Although he went only 4-6 as a Tiger in the regular season, Sanchez began to pitch better down the stretch. That carried over into the postseason, in which he’s 1-1 with a 1.35 ERA.
The last time Sanchez pitched, he shut out the New York Yankees for seven innings in Game 2 of the ALCS.
That’s the type of performance the Tigers were hoping for when they traded top pitching prospect Jacob Turner to the Marlins and acquired Sanchez and second baseman Omar Infante.
“I had seen him pitch on TV and stuff, but I didn’t really know the young man,” Detroit manager Jim Leyland said. “Once he got in his comfort zone, I think he’s done absolutely very, very well. He’s a very, very good pitcher.”
The 6-foot Sanchez is 5 inches shorter than Verlander and 8 inches shorter than Fister. He was shaky after first joining the Tigers, but he posted a 2.43 ERA in his final six regular-season starts.
“I know I’ve got pretty bad starts in the beginning of my trade,” Sanchez said. “I didn’t know too much, the hitters, but after that I make my adjustment.”
The trade for Sanchez was Detroit’s last big move of the season. The Tigers were more than willing to trade a potential future star to acquire two players who could help them compete for a World Series title this year.
Detroit’s starting rotation was marvelous against Oakland in the division series and the Yankees in the ALCS. But the Tigers were stung in the World Series opener by the Giants, losing 8-3 when Pablo Sandoval hit three home runs in a game Verlander started.
In Game 2, Fister took a line drive off his head but still managed to pitch into the seventh inning. San Francisco won 2-0.
Right-hander Max Scherzer looked like Detroit’s best pitcher at times during the second half of the season, but his throwing shoulder acted up in September, so he’s been slotted for Game 4 during the postseason, starting once per series.
So Sanchez is in line to pitch Saturday, with the season seemingly on the line and the prospect of a short series hanging over the proceedings.
“He’s pitched pretty well against the Giants in the past, and obviously we’re saving Scherzer to give him a little more time to keep recouping a little bit,” Leyland said. “But Sanchez has really gotten acclimated here in Detroit. I expect him to pitch a good game. The key is we’re going to have to get some runs on the board, obviously.”
Sanchez shut out the Giants last year and held them to a run in seven innings in an outing this May. But in his most recent start against them – on May 24 – he was touched up for five runs.
“He’ll throw any pitch at any time. He throws quality strikes,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. “We’ve had our tough times against him. He’s a good pitcher.”
The Tigers faced elimination once this postseason already, when Verlander shut out Oakland in the fifth game of the division series. In fact, Detroit has been staring down the prospect of a disappointing finish seemingly all year. For much of the season, the Tigers were underachievers before they overtook the White Sox in September.
Then they went on their postseason run before encountering one more difficult roadblock.
If they’re going to overcome the Giants, they’d better turn this series around soon.
“I think everybody is going to be relaxed,” Sanchez said. “We know we are home, we play really good here. We’re going to keep doing the same.”