Anibal Sanchez loses no-hitter with 2 outs to go

DETROIT — Friday night is turning into Anibal Night at Comerica Park.

Exactly four weeks after striking out a franchise-record 17 Atlanta Braves, Anibal Sanchez was at it again Friday night. This time, while he fell two outs short of his second career no-hitter, he still struck out 12 Minnesota Twins in a one-hit complete game.

“He’s a really good pitcher, and he was terrific tonight,” Jim Leyland said. “He was pounding the strike zone all night long, and it was almost perfect.”

Sanchez struck out Jamey Carroll to start the ninth, but Joe Mauer ended the run at history with a line drive up the middle.

“I was thinking about it a little, but I knew I had to face him,” Sanchez said of Mauer. “It’s really hard to get him out four times in a game because he’s so smart. I tried to make my best pitch and he hit it.”

Sanchez threw back his head in frustration after the single, then smiled wryly and retired the final two hitters.

“I thought I would come out at that point, but skipper left me in and I struck out the last two guys,” Sanchez said. “I got nine innings and a great result, and I’ll take it.”

It wasn’t the first near-miss for Sanchez, who leads baseball with five complete games with one hit or less since 2006. That includes the no-hitter he threw for Florida on Sept. 6, 2006.

“In my first one, I didn’t really know what was going on, but now I know,” he said. “When I got to the eighth inning, I was thinking about it, but I knew I had a tough ninth coming up with Carroll, Mauer and (Josh) Willingham. Those are good hitters.”

Sanchez amazed his teammates with his calm demeanor, even on the verge of history. With two out in the eighth, he called catcher Alex Avila out to the mound. Avila originally thought Sanchez might want a break from the pressure, but it was something entirely different.

“He just forgot what signs we were going to use if they got a runner to second base,” Avila said. “He called me out to the mound for that. In the middle of a no-hitter.

“I’ve been catching a few times in no-hitters in the seventh or eighth inning, but I’ve never had a pitcher call me out to the mound for something like that. It was just another game for him.”

After Sanchez whiffed Carroll to start the ninth, he had to face a batter who specializes in the art of ending no-hit dreams. Not only is Mauer one of the toughest hitters in the game, he had already broken up two no-hitters in the ninth inning.

Sure enough, with 39,789 fans cheering against him, Mauer lined a clean single to center field.

“He was just nasty tonight,” Mauer said of Sanchez. “You know exactly what is happening, and you don’t want it to happen. So you just go up there trying to get a good at-bat.

“He threw me a really good cutter, but I was just able to square it up and hit it over the infield.”

Leyland was happy that, unlike Armando Galarraga’s infamous 28-out perfect game, this one ended on a clean single.

“(Sanchez) gave up the hit to one of the best hitters in baseball, and it wasn’t a fluke or a blooper,” Leyland said. “It’s certainly no disgrace to give up a hit to a guy like that, particularly that late in the game when you’re getting a little tired and your pitch count’s getting up a little.”

Sanchez ended up with a career-high 130 pitches, but Leyland never dreamed of bringing in a reliever.

“I think that had I gone to that mound with him having a no-hitter, they might be dragging me through the tunnel right now with the paramedics giving me life support,” Leyland said. “I’m sure if I would’ve made a phone call in the ninth inning and called my owner, I’m sure he would’ve said, ‘Let him go out there.'”

If Sanchez had retired Mauer, it would have left everything up to Willingham. The Twins designated hitter knows exactly what Sanchez is capable of — Willingham was Florida’s left fielder in Sanchez’s no-hitter in 2006.

“I was relieved when Joe got that hit, because Anibal’s pitches were moving like a whiffle ball,” Willingham said. “I didn’t want to be the guy that ended a game where we go no-hit.”

Until Mauer’s hit, the Twins hadn’t even come close to derailing Sanchez. He walked batters in each of the first two innings, but then retired 18 straight before walking Eduardo Escobar in the eighth.

The closest any Twin came to a hit was when Chris Parmalee hit a hard bouncer up the middle, but Sanchez fielded it at head height and easily threw for the out at first. Brian Dozier almost beat out an infield single in the sixth, but umpire Andy Fletcher correctly called the Twins second baseman out.

The crowd gasped when Justin Morneau hit a hard liner up the middle in the seventh, but Tigers shortstop Jhonny Peralta only needed one step to make the catch.

But Mauer ruined the party, especially for Sanchez’s teammates.

“It was kind of a letdown because we all wanted him to get it,” Tigers left fielder Andy Dirks said. “He was awesome.”

Dirks said that he followed the ancient baseball tradition of not talking to the pitcher with a no-hitter going, but one of his teammates couldn’t keep quiet.

“I talked to him a couple times — not about the thing, but about certain pitches,” Detroit first baseman Prince Fielder said. “He was so locked in that I don’t think me talking to him would have had anything to do with it.

“Nobody talking to him would have changed the outcome. He was lights-out.”

For Tigers fans who have witnessed either Sanchez’s 17-K game or Friday’s one-hitter, the night ends with one important question: When is Sanchez’s next Friday-night start at Comerica?

“I don’t have any special day to pitch, but that’s two good experiences here on Friday,” Sanchez said. “It’s not like I go out to do something special, but this team has some special things.”

Check your calendar — the next time Sanchez is scheduled on a Friday, tickets aren’t likely to last long.