BOSTON — The Red Sox and Tigers ranked first and second, respectively, in runs scored during the regular season. So naturally, Game 1 ended in a 1-0 decision.
Anibal Sanchez and four relievers combined to toss a one-hit shutout as the Tigers seized control of the ALCS with a 1-0 victory over the Red Sox at Fenway Park on Saturday. The Red Sox didn’t produce a hit until the ninth inning, and Sox hitters struck out 17 times before Xander Bogaerts popped out to Jose Iglesias to end Boston’s frustrating night at the plate.
“Whether it was Sanchez or every guy they brought out of the bullpen, it was power stuff,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said following the loss. “They had a secondary pitch they could go to. We got some big opportunities in that first, second and sixth inning, and a two-out base hit was elusive.”
Coincidentally, the game was decided by a two-out base hit. Jon Lester walked Miguel Cabrera and plunked Prince Fielder with one out in the sixth inning, and then surrendered a two-out RBI single to Jhonny Peralta.
Peralta served a 50-game suspension during the regular season for his involvement in the Biogenesis scandal, but he has come up big in the postseason. Peralta, who smacked a huge three-run homer in Game 4 of the ALDS, went 3-for-4 in Game 1 of the ALCS on Saturday, and he is now hitting .500 (8-for-16) with a home run and six RBIs in five playoff games.
“In the Dominican Republic, I tried to work every day over there,” Peralta said of staying sharp during his suspension. “They called me and gave me the opportunity to be here, so I tried to work hard every day. I went to Florida for one week and worked with a hitting coach over there in Florida. And that’s what I tried to do more than anything — prepare to be in the playoffs.”
While Peralta’s RBI single stood as the difference, the story of the game was the Red Sox’ sputtering offense. The Red Sox failed to put the leadoff hitter on in any inning, and, more importantly, were unable to cash in on the few opportunities that they did have.
Boston put two runners on in the first inning. Shane Victorino struck out swinging but reached when the ball got past catcher Alex Avila, and Dustin Pedroia worked a walk — one of six walks issued by Sanchez, who departed after six hitless innings. David Ortiz and Mike Napoli struck out to end the frame, though, and Sanchez walked off the mound in the first inning with the first four-strikeout inning for a pitcher in a postseason game since 1908.
The Red Sox put two more runners on base in the second inning as Sanchez struggled with his control. Stephen Drew and David Ross walked, but the inning ended with Iglesias throwing out Jacoby Ellsbury on a close play at first base.
The Red Sox’ best opportunity came in the sixth inning, which turned out to be Sanchez’s final frame. Boston loaded the bases via three walks, but failed to score, as Drew struck out to end the threat. Tigers manager Jim Leyland kept Sanchez in to face Drew despite the right-hander’s rising pitch count and left-hander Drew Smyly ready in the bullpen.
“[Sanchez] got rolling pretty good and made some good pitches and gave us all we needed,” Leyland said. “And [he] made a great pitch on Drew to get out of that [sixth] inning. Sitting there with [Jonny] Gomes, [Smyly] being a lefty there, sitting over there with Gomes, I assume we wanted to stay away from that.”
The Tigers nearly added to their run total in the top of the ninth inning, as Fielder hit a little flair off Koji Uehara with runners at second and third. Drew made a fantastic running play in shallow center field, though, and the Red Sox still had life.
Daniel Nava gave Boston its first hit of the game with one out in the bottom of the ninth, and pinch runner Quintin Berry swiped second base to put the potential tying run into scoring position for Xander Bogaerts. But the rookie failed to deliver. Bogaerts popped out to Iglesias at short. Game. Set. Match.
It was a fantastic performance by Sanchez and Co., and it was certainly aided by some missed opportunities. Jon Lester pitched very well in his 6 1/3 innings of work, but he was ultimately a hard-luck loser because of Boston’s offensive struggles. Clay Buchholz and the Red Sox are now forced to rebound against 21-game winner Max Scherzer on Sunday.
“I think we’ll be ready to go [Sunday],” Farrell said. “If you haven’t been around us this year, we have the ability to put tonight behind us and we’ll be ready to go.”
The Red Sox scored 863 runs during the regular season. Runs clearly aren’t going to come easy in the ALCS, though, especially with Scherzer and Justin Verlander taking the ball for the Tigers in Games 2 and 3.