Detroit — Situations can change quickly in baseball, from pitch to pitch, inning to inning and game to game.
One pitch or one swing can change the tenor of a game. For the Tigers’ Anibal Sanchez, another good start to an outing vaporized in the fifth inning, as he went from not allowing a hit to being knocked out of the game in the span of an inning.
The Rays pounced on the opportunity, with seven runs in the next 10 batters, taking a 7-2 victory over the Tigers on Saturday afternoon at Comerica Park. It’s the second straight loss for the Tigers, who were coming off a four-game win streak this week.
Sanchez gave up his first hit on Logan Forsythe’s home run with one out in the fifth, allowing only two walks in the first 15 batters. After Ryan Hanigan walked, Kevin Kiermaier laced an RBI triple to right and scored on Desmond Jennings’ RBI single to make it 3-0.
The trouble for Sanchez started earlier than that, though. He got through the first two innings with only 23 pitches but an 11-pitch at-bat with Hanigan in the third inning that ended in a walk elevated his pitch count to 42 and seemed to tire Sanchez a bit.
“Early in the game, I thought it was going to be a good game for him. He looked sharp and his pitch count was down,” Ausmus said. “It seemed to turn on the Hanigan at-bat. Hanigan fouled off a bunch of pitches and then (Sanchez) wasn’t quite as sharp as he had been earlier in the game.”
But Sanchez (5-3) wasn’t out of trouble; he gave up back-to-back singles to lead off the sixth and walked James Loney to load the bases. Brandon Guyer had a sacrifice fly and Forsythe added an RBI single to push the lead to 5-0. Sanchez got one more out before exiting, with 108 pitches, and leaving runners on the corners.
“I don’t know when everything changed, when everything turned around. I had a really good game plan from the beginning and had a really good four innings,” said Sanchez, who lost for the first time since April 21. “The homer and the walk, everything changed and my balls started being up in the strike zone and not down and that’s why Tampa took advantage.”
Phil Coke entered and gave up a two-run triple to Kiermaier to score both runners and push the lead to 7-0.
Kiermaier tied the team record, becoming the sixth Rays player with two triples in a game; the last to do it was Matt Joyce on May 20, 2011 against the Marlins.
As much as Sanchez’s fortunes changed quickly, Rays starter Chris Archer (5-5) stayed steady. He gave up a leadoff single to Austin Jackson to start the game and didn’t allow another hit until the fifth, when Torii Hunter singled up middle.
Archer looked to be on the way to a complete-game shutout until Alex Avila launched a two-out home run in the seventh to cut the deficit to six. J.D. Martinez also had a solo home run in the ninth, with his 11th of the season, matching his career high.
Archer gave up a single to Hunter and walked Avila before Grant Balfour finished the game for the Rays.
“He had some poise on the mound for a young guy and explosive fastball in and out, good slider. He’s definitely one of the best young pitchers in the game,” said Hunter, who went 2-for-4. “Good pitching will beat good hitting any day. Yesterday they had good pitching and today they had a good pitching performance against Anibal Sanchez.”
In the clubhouse after the game, Sanchez and Avila talked about the troubles in the outing and what they could have done differently.
“We talked about finishing the hitter. We got into a lot of situations with 0-2 counts and I couldn’t finish the guy,” Sanchez said. “It took three to five more pitches. With Hanigan, it took me probably 10 pitches for every at-bat and that made me a little tired.
“I need to work on finishing hitters earlier in the count.”