DETROIT — Anibal Sanchez approached the dugout with the crowd at Comerica Park roaring its approval, then he took off his hat to acknowledge the fans.
Aware of his pitch count, he realized his night was probably done – but what an evening it was.
Sanchez struck out 17 in eight marvelous innings for Detroit, confounding the Atlanta Braves in a dazzling performance Friday night and leading the Tigers to a 10-0 victory. Sanchez broke Mickey Lolich’s team record of 16 strikeouts when he fanned three in the eighth.
“It’s hard to get much better than that,” manager Jim Leyland said.
Sanchez threw 121 pitches, so there would be no return for the ninth to try to match Roger Clemens and Kerry Wood with 20 strikeouts. Leyland said he was ready to take Sanchez out after the seventh before letting him pitch a bit longer.
Sanchez was asked after the game about his place in franchise history. The Tigers have been around for over a century, and nobody has had a game quite like this.
“Amazing,” he said. “I’m just going to keep working. That’s not going to stop today.”
Clemens and Wood are the only pitchers to strike out 20 in a nine-inning game. Since at least 1921, only Randy Johnson has struck out more than 17 while pitching eight innings or less. Johnson, who was then with Seattle, fanned 18 against Texas in a 1992 game, according to STATS.
Lolich struck out 16 twice in less than three weeks
Sanchez (3-1) allowed five hits and one walk Friday.
“I don’t think too much about strikeouts and records and things like that,” Sanchez said. “I prefer getting some zeros.”
Paul Maholm (3-2) allowed eight runs in 32/3 innings after giving up only three in his first four starts.
Sanchez kept the Braves off balance all night, striking out at least two hitters in every inning except the fourth. Several of his strikeouts came when he got Atlanta hitters to chase balls down around the dirt. He got Dan Uggla four times and Freddie Freeman and Juan Francisco three times each.
“He was really good. I don’t know even know if he missed a spot,” Uggla said. “Everything was moving, cutting and sinking.”
Comerica is no stranger to high strikeout totals. Max Scherzer struck out 15 for the Tigers last year in a home game against Pittsburgh. 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 said.
When told about that comment, Verlander – a former MVP and Cy Young Award winner who has thrown two no-hitters – paused briefly.
“That’s OK,” he said. “I’ve got a few other things.”
This was Sanchez’s night. His performance overshadowed Tuiasosopo’s big game with the bat. Tuiasosopo entered the game with 16 RBI in a major league career that began with Seattle in 2008. He was a somewhat surprising addition to Detroit’s roster out of spring training, but he’s hit well in limited action with the Tigers.
Tuiasosopo’s bases-loaded single in the third drove in two runs and made it 4-0.
Detroit scored six runs the following inning. An RBI double by Victor Martinez made it 7-0 and chased Maholm, and with two on, Tuiasosopo hit a drive over the left-field fence for his first homer since 2010.
After that, it was just a question of how many hitters Sanchez could strike out. He’d already fanned 14 at the start of the eighth, matching Yu Darvish of Texas for the highest single-game total in the majors this season.
Then he left that mark behind, fanning Francisco and Reed Johnson to start the inning. After Andrelton Simmons singled, Uggla struck out, and Sanchez’s work was done.