Anibal Sanchez did everything the Detroit Tigers could have possibly asked on Saturday night.
He just didn’t get any help.
Sanchez took a shutout into the ninth inning against Oakland, and Brad Ausmus gave him a chance to post Detroit’s first complete game of the season. The leash was short, with the Tigers only leading 1-0, and it got a lot shorter when Sanchez needed nine pitches to retire the first batter of the inning.
Coco Crisp, who always seems to come up with a big hit against the Tigers, followed with a double down the left-field line, and Ausmus didn’t hesitate. He was immediately out of the dugout, signaling for Joe Nathan.
"Sanchie said he felt good, and he was only at 100 pitches, so he had some room to work with," Ausmus said. "The first at-bat was a long one, though, and that got his pitch count up. That hurt his chances, and once Crisp got the double, it was time to get him out."
That’s when everything fell apart. Nathan threw a 2-2 slider to John Jaso, who hit a soft liner toward left field. Nick Castellanos got his glove on it, but couldn’t make the catch, and the ball squirted into shallow left as Crisp cruised into third.
The play was scored as a hit for Jaso, but everyone agreed Castellanos should have made the catch, including the rookie himself.
"It was moving a little, but that’s a catchable ball," he said. "It was going away from me, but I should have caught it. It just went off the tip of my glove."
Even if Castellanos had caught the ball, it would have been nearly impossible for him to turn a game-ending double play. Crisp is a smart baserunner, and was already moving back to second, while Castellanos would have been in an awkward throwing position.
So, instead of Oakland having a runner on second with two out, Nathan was now facing Josh Donaldson with the tying run on third, the winning run on first and only one out. That’s certainly a tougher situation, but it is precisely the reason that the Tigers invested so much money in Nathan during the offseason — to finish off close games.
It didn’t happen. Nathan’s next pitch was a hanging slider that Donaldson crushed down the left-field line for a game-ending three-run homer. Instead of a 1-0 victory and a two-game winning streak, the Tigers had suddenly lost for the eighth time in 10 games, and wasted a superb pitching performance in the process.
Sanchez, though, wasn’t about to second-guess his manager.
"I felt good, but whatever decision he makes is good with me," he said. "It didn’t become a bad decision because we lost the game. That was just one bad pitch. It happens."
A frustrated Nathan didn’t exactly throw himself on his sword after the game, choosing to focus on the play Castellanos didn’t make instead of his own mistake.
"The big out there was Jaso, because you get him and it changes everything," he said. "When we didn’t get Jaso, it puts you in a tough spot — first and third with a real good hitter at the plate, and it kind of forces me to go after one of their better hitters.
"So Jaso was the out we thought we had, and unfortunately, it didn’t happen."
Mathematically, the Tigers were still favored to win the game after Jaso’s single — a 54.5 percent likelihood of victory, according to Fangraphs.com.