Toronto — He had hung in Friday, which wasn’t easy to do when Anibal Sanchez was slapped for nine hits in the first three innings of a Tigers-Blue Jays game Friday at Rogers Centre.
But he smoothed his approach, shook off some ugly defense that had contributed to the Jays’ early 4-0 lead, and with two gone in the fifth, Sanchez looked as if he might last six innings and make the most of a troubled evening, even before a three-run burst in the ninth gave the Tigers a 5-4 victory.
But Sanchez’s rebound ended, chillingly, in the fifth as he got ready to pitch to Ryan Goins after whiffing Josh Thole for the inning’s second out. Ahead of his first pitch to Goins, Sanchez flipped to first base, attempting to hold runner Munenori Kawasaki.
He felt something sharp and painful in his upper right side. He called to the mound Tigers trainer Kevin Rand and manager Brad Ausmus. They conferred. Sanchez was permitted a practice pitch.
Well before the ball got to Alex Avila’s glove, Sanchez knew he was finished. He walked from the field and into the Tigers clubhouse.
How long he will be gone with an injury tentatively described as a strained right pectoralis, neither he nor the Tigers training staff knows. Sanchez will be in Detroit today for an MRI that should provide detail on the extent of his problem and the time, if any, he could miss.
“I never got this before,” said Sanchez, who left with the Jays leading, 4-2, following too many early hits, and too much bad defense by the Tigers, particularly in the case of left-fielder J.D. Martinez.
“There was no chance to throw another pitch. There’s a little pain in there. But I don’t know. I never got this before.”
Ausmus had not even a gut sense for how long Sanchez might be gone.
“We just don’t know for sure,” Ausmus said. “It’s in an area that doesn’t happen very often.”
When you are 39 years old, wisdom is part of a pitcher’s portfolio. Joe Nathan was as much playing chess in Friday night’s ninth inning as he was pitching to the Jays in a game the Tigers led, 5-4, thanks to three runs on back-to-back, ninth-inning homers from Nick Castellanos and Eugenio Suarez.
“Any time you get in there in those kinds of games, you’ve got to pitch careful, and also be aggressive,” said Nathan, the Tigers closer who got his 24th save of the season Friday, even if he loaded the bases with two out.
The Tigers’ back-end crew has had its issues in 2014, with Nathan taking his turns. He got into trouble quickly Friday, even if a leadoff single by Jose Bautista was better than a home run Nathan had tried mightily to avoid — and did when Bautista cracked a 3-2 slider to center.
Next was Dioner Navarro, who lofted a deep fly to right field for the inning’s first out. Nathan followed with a strikeout of Danny Valencia, and now he and the Tigers were a batter away from stealing an amazing game at Rogers Centre.
Nathan, though, walked Colby Rasmus when “I couldn’t get him to chase fastballs away and I gave him a 3-2 slider that I, unfortunately, threw a little short.”
Now there were runners at first and second with two out. The Jays brought to bat left-handed cruncher Juan Francisco.
“I don’t want to load the bases with a one-run lead,” Nathan said, “but I also don’t want to give in to him.”
And so, after falling behind, Nathan semi-intentionally sent Francisco to first with a four-pitch walk that filled the bases.
He got a first-pitch fastball past Thole for strike one. It set up a curveball that Thole launched on a high, shallow path toward the left-field line’s foul ground.
“I thought it was going to fall into the Bermuda Triangle,” said Nathan, meaning the ball looked as if it would tumble to earth, foul, for strike two. But that was before Rajai Davis streaked toward it, slid, and caught it as he performed the first big-league impression of a luge sledder.
“I think he had a little extra giddy-up,” said Nathan speaking of Davis, who played for the Jays before he signed with Detroit.
Nathan, however, had seen his strategy work, even if a sacks-loaded save isn’t what he or the Tigers would generally prefer.
Ausmus challenged a call in the second when Toronto’s Goins beat out a squeeze bunt that scored Kawasaki. Ausmus argued that Sanchez’s throw to first had gotten Goins.
The call was upheld and Ausmus’ challenge was viewed, depending upon which camera angle was considered, as a futile appeal.
Ausmus thought differently.
“After looking at the video, I firmly believe he was out,” Ausmus said. “We had an angle from the third-base camera. It was to me clear and conclusive.”
The inspectors in New York had a different view and Goins was allowed to stay at first base.