Detroit — If you have even a little bit of compassion left for any part of this Tigers season, you felt good for Anibal Sanchez on Friday night.
Through all his travails this season, one unwavering belief has kept him sane, kept him at the grinding wheel and pushing doggedly forward — the belief that he was still a capable and competent big-league pitcher.
Sanchez earned a measure of validation Friday, limiting a sizzling Chicago White Sox offense to one run over six innings, striking out a season-best 11.
“When your starting pitcher has a performance like that,” catcher James McCann said, “you’ve got to find a way to win.”
The Tigers did, in walk-off fashion. In the bottom of the ninth, Mikie Mahtook, in his first game back since Sept. 8, punched a two-out single up the middle scoring Jeimer Candelario from third and giving the Tigers a 3-2 win, ending a six-game losing streak.
“Sanchie has had a tough year but he came out tonight and he was the old Sanchie,” Mahtook said. “He was lights-out and he kept us in a position to win the game. This was good baseball. The wins and losses don’t really matter but this helps us out for competitiveness and pride.”
One run, 11 strikeouts in six impressive innings for Sanchez.
This after he’d been lit up in his previous five starts (25 runs, 36 hits, 11 home runs in 16 innings). This after he’d started the season in the bullpen, took a demotion to Toledo, fought his way off the disabled list a couple of times and finally back into the Tigers’ rotation.
“Obviously, this was a very good outing for me,” Sanchez said. “I was able to put the ball on both sides of the strike zone and change speeds. That helped me a lot. I was able to put all of the White Sox hitters out of balance.”
Against a White Sox team that pounded out 17 runs and 25 hits on Thursday and was hitting .387 as a team over the last six games, Sanchez killed them softly. Killed them with pinpoint command of his entire multi-pitch repertoire, by mixing speeds and using all four quadrants of the plate.
“He really used his fastball at the top of the zone well,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “He got a lot of swings and misses up top and he avoided that gray area. If you get too close to that gray zone at the top, it’s a dangerous pitch and they hit it over the wall.
“But if you can get it right to the top of that gray area and still entice them to swing, it’s a foul ball or a swing and miss.”
He threw four different fastballs, all out of the same arm slot and all with different speed and movement — a four-seamer at 91-92 mph, two-seam sinker at 91, cutter at 90 and split-fingered fastball, which acted more like a change-up, at 83.
Of his 17 swings and misses, seven came on the split. Of his 19 called strikes, eight came on his four-seam. One was setting up the other, and with his slow curve, change-up and slider mixed in, he kept the White Sox hitters off balance.
“When I am able to hit the zone on both sides of the plate, I can do a lot,” Sanchez said. “You saw the results tonight.”
His only mistake was a cutter over the heart of the plate to Yoan Moncada in third inning that he sent on a line into the right-field seats.
Sanchez ended his night by striking out Avisail Garcia (looking at a sinker), Nicky Delmonico (swinging at a slider) and Matt Davidson (swinging at a four-seamer) in the sixth.
“When he locates the way he did tonight — he literally made one mistake, the home run to Moncada — he’s dominant,” McCann said.
It was the first quality start by a Tiger since Justin Verlander’s final start with the club on Aug. 30. It was Sanchez’s first double-digit strikeout game since August of 2016.
All that was left for the Tigers to do after that performance was win the game.
They tied the score in the fourth inning off White Sox starter Carson Fulmer on an RBI single by Nick Castellanos. The hit extended his hitting streak to a career-high 12 games.
Tyler Collins, another player who’s had a tumultuous ride this season, broke a 1-1 tie with a majestic home run to right field off reliever Gregory Infante in the seventh. It was his first home run since May 17, the day hit a pair of home runs off the Orioles.
The White Sox tied it in the top of the eighth. With one out, Alex Wilson hit Jose Abreu — a play hotly disputed by the Tigers — and gave up an infield single to Garcia.
“I looked at the replay; I don’t know why they called that a hit batter,” Ausmus said. “I just don’t get that one. It clearly hit the knob (of the bat). He’s not a hitter that has his finger over the knob; he has it behind the knob.
“I just don’t get it.”
The umpires upheld the call after video review.
Wilson got the second out and Ausmus summoned closer Shane Greene.
Matt Davidson rolled a soft single to right field — second baseman Ian Kinsler was positioned more up the middle — that scored Abreu and tied the score.
After Greene pitched a scoreless top of the ninth, Candelario worked a one-out walk and with two outs, Collins was walked by left-hander Aaron Bummer. Right-hander Juan Minaya then came in to pitch to Mahtook.
Mahtook just missed a hanging slider, then fouled off an inside fastball and worked the count full before reaching out and slapping a slider up the middle.
“When I fouled off that heater up and in, I knew I was in a good spot,” Mahtook said. “I wasn’t coming off anything. A fastball up and in after he threw me a couple of sliders and I was able to foul it off.
“I was just looking for something out over the plate and that slider may have been off away, but I felt like I was on pitches all night and I was able to put a good swing on it.”
It was Mahtook’s first career walk-off and the Tigers' first since Justin Upton's home run beat the Twins on Aug. 12.
“It’s been rough,” Mahtook said. “Especially yesterday (17-7 loss). Nobody likes to finish games like that and be on the wrong end of that. It’s been a struggle, that’s no secret. But everybody in here wants to do well, compete and play the game right.”