When Anibal Sanchez needed just two more outs against the Minnesota Twins to record his second career no-hitter — and baseball’s first of the season — the Detroit right-hander didn’t really have a chance on Friday night.
Three-time batting champ Joe Mauer was stepping to the plate for Minnesota. Sanchez should have intentionally walked the Twins catcher. After all, the hometown Tigers were up 6-0.
See, Mauer is a ninth-inning, no-hitter killer. Before Friday night, Mauer had broken up no-hitters in the ninth twice before in his career. On Friday in Detroit, Mauer did it again.
On a 1-1 count with one out, Mauer recorded the Twins’ first — and only — hit with one out in the top of the ninth inning at Comerica Park. Mauer, now batting .337, lined a single up the middle, preventing the Tigers right-hander from making history.
Sanchez struck out the next two batters to seal the 6-0 Tigers’ victory. It would have been Sanchez’s second career no-hitter. In just his 13th career start, Sanchez no-hit the Arizona Diamondbacks as a rookie with the Florida Marlins in 2006.
But Mauer knows a thing or two about hitting, having won batting titles in 2006, ’08 and ’09. He also knows how to spoil a no-hit bid in the ninth inning. On May 6, 2008, Mauer doubled off Gavin Floyd of the Chicago White Sox with two outs to go, and on Aug. 23, 2010, Mauer singled off Neftali Perez of the Texas Rangers with two outs.
Sanchez struck Mauer out twice Friday and induced him to ground into a fielder’s choice in the first inning. The fourth time up, though, Mauer finally notched the Twins’ elusive hit.
“I knew I was coming into a tough ninth inning,” Sanchez said. “Mauer, (Josh) Willingham and (Justin) Morneau, it’s really hard to go there and feel comfortable. I made my best pitch, but Mauer is one of the best hitters in the league.”
Sanchez finished Friday’s game with 12 strikeouts and three walks. He needed 130 pitches to finish the shutout and his fourth career one-hitter. For the Florida Marlins, he tossed two one-hitters in 2011 — vs. the Rockies on April 22, and the Pirates on Sept. 10 — and one in 2010 — at the Giants on July 29.
“He gave up the hit to a great hitter,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. “(Mauer is) one of the best in all of baseball for several years now. It’s not a fluke. It wasn’t a blooper. It was to a great hitter.
“(Sanchez) had a shot at it, but when a guy like Mauer sees a guy that long during a course of a game, he’s got a chance, obviously, to get a hit. He’s a great hitter. It was just an unbelievable pitching performance by Sanchez.”
Thanks to Mauer’s single up the middle, the Twins avoided being no-hit for the second time in just over 12 months. Los Angeles Angels starter Jered Weaver no-hit Minnesota on May 2, 2012. Still, the 6-0 loss was the Twins’ 10th consecutive loss, dropping them to 18-27 on the season.
Minnesota starter Samuel Deduno made his season debut and lasted 5 1/3 innings, yielding six runs on nine hits and three walks. He also surrendered a home run to Don Kelly, a two-run shot in the third inning.
It really didn’t matter who the Twins had on the mound, though. There was nothing any Minnesota batter could do against Sanchez.
That is, except for Mauer.
“He’s just a great hitter,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said of Mauer. “I’m sure that on their side (he’s) probably the one guy they didn’t want to have coming up in the ninth inning because he’s a good hitter. He can do some things.”