Boston — What’s that age-old saying about good pitching — that it stops good hitting?
At Fenway Park on Saturday night — in the postseason spotlight, no less — the Tigers nearly no-hit not just good hitting ... but a Boston Red Sox team that led the American League in runs scored, slugging, total bases — and extra-base hits, too.
In fact, the Tigers came within two outs of adding themselves to the record book — with Daniel Nava’s one-out single in the bottom of the ninth off Joaquin Benoit being the only blemish of the bid.
Benoit regrouped, however, to strand the potential tying run at second base while nailing down a 1-0 victory over the Red Sox in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series.
Not only that, but the Tigers are coming back in Game 2 Sunday night with their Cy Young Award favorite in Max Scherzer.
Think you’ll be able to rebound, Red Sox?
“If you haven’t been around us this year,” said manager John Farrell, “we have the ability to put tonight behind us.”
Tigers’ starter Anibal Sanchez shouldered most of the load in the near-no-hitter with six hitless innings, striking out 12.
The foursome that followed — Al Alburquerque, Jose Veras, Drew Smyly and Benoit — picked up where Sanchez left off, almost keeping the no-hitter intact.
“They did an absolutely fantastic job,” manager Jim Leyland said of his bullpen.
It wouldn’t have the prettiest of gems because of Sanchez’s six walks.
But because it would have been the first no-hitter ever thrown in a League Championship Series game, and just the third ever thrown in the postseason — the others being Don Larsen’s perfect game for the Yankees in the 1956 World Series and Roy Halladay’s no-hitter for the Phillies in a 2010 National League Division Series game — it would have gone down as one of the most memorable.
But it didn’t happen.
What did happen, though, was that the Tigers shut the Sox down completely to take a quick one-game edge in the ALCS, making the most of the game’s only run — the product of a Jhonny Peralta single in the sixth.
But as Leyland said about scoring only once, “you almost feel like you’re behind with one run in this ballpark. With the Monster (the wall in left), you never feel comfortable.”
Sanchez was brilliant — wild, but brilliant, victimized only by his pitch count. Despite not allowing a hit, he exited after six innings because he’d thrown 116 pitches.
“There were times his stuff was so flat-out nasty,” said catcher Alex Avila, “there were times I didn’t know where the ball was going to go.”
There was no more emotional moment for either than when he struck out Stephen Drew to end the sixth with the bases loaded.
“I was very excited,” Avila said. “Sometimes it’s good to show a little emotion.”
Sanchez was done at that point, though. He knew there was a “good job” handshake waiting for him at the dugout from Leyland.
Basically, the Tigers tied the Sox in knots the entire game — or else they wouldn’t have had as many checked swings as they did. Or as many strikes that they tried to sell to the umpires as balls.
The best example of the latter was when Jacoby Ellsbury headed for first after taking a 3-1 pitch in the seventh from Al Alburquerque, only to be called back by plate umpire Joe West, who called the borderline pitch a strike.
Beyond restless at that point, the crowd booed the call — after cheering earlier in the inning when a checked swing was ruled a ball.
Back at the plate, Ellsbury’s at-bat ended with him striking out for the third time in four at-bats.
That’s how it went for the Sox.
They looked as a befuddled as the A’s had in Game 5 of the Division Series.
Peralta driving in Miguel Cabrera from third in the sixth was the extent of the Tigers’ offense — the part of it, anyway, that was productive.
The single came while Peralta was being taunted by the fans for his 50-game suspension. If he heard them, he wasn’t bothered by them.
“I try not to listen to what people say, the fans and everything,” Peralta said. “I try to do my job.”
Cabrera wasn’t on third because of a triple, though. Considering how much his speed has been reduced by his groin injury, you’re not going to see a Cabrera triple any time soon.
But when Prince Fielder was hit by a pitch after the walk and when Victor Martinez beat a throw to first on a would-be 6-4-3 double-play, Cabrera ended up on third — the only base he could score from, of course, on Peralta’s single to center off starter Jon Lester.
The Tigers certainly had the edge in making contact — striking out six times to Boston’s 17 — but as Leyland said, “we could have done a little better with our opportunities.”
Strikeouts came so quickly for Sanchez, though, that he fanned five of the first six batters he faced — but for only four outs because one of them occurred on a wild pitch in the first inning.
With the fourth strikeout of the first inning, Sanchez became the first pitcher to strike out four hitters in one postseason inning since Orval Overall of the Cubs did it in the 1908 World Series against the Tigers — with one of the four being Ty Cobb.
The Tigers threatened without scoring in the fifth, but didn’t waste their chance in the sixth.
It wasn’t going to take an offensive explosion for the Tigers to win this game, though — just a hit at the right time.
Against a team which had only one at any time.