Right-hander Anibal Sánchez, who shackled the Royals on Tuesday night while pitching Detroit into a share of first place, will be a free agent in the coming offseason.
Royals owner David Glass and general manager Dayton Moore, who are mapping out an offseason strategy, were present to see Sánchez work an efficient complete game in Detroit’s 2-0 victory at Comerica Park.
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“He was throwing four pitches for strikes and pounding the strike zone,” designated hitter Billy Butler marveled. “We never really had a shot against him. He just came out and took over the game. He was dominant.”
Royals starter Bruce Chen was a tough-luck loser. He surrendered two soft runs in the first inning and nothing more in his 6 2/3 innings. Four singles — a ground ball and three bloops — did the damage.
“I left a couple of pitches up (in the first inning),” Chen said, “and they got some base-hits.… It’s just that Anibal Sánchez did a real good job of pitching. It’s one of those games where you tip your hat. There’s nothing else we could have done.”
Sánchez (4-6) struck out 10 and induced 11 ground-ball outs with a devastating sinker-slider-curve combination. His record since arriving July 23 from Miami is deceptive, too: He has six quality starts in his last seven outings.
The crowd of 29,048 rose to its feet when Sánchez returned for the ninth inning — partially in tribute for his effort and, likely, an acknowledgment that closer José Valverde hasn’t been airtight lately.
Sánchez rolled through the inning. He ended his gem by retiring the final 10 Royals.
“You saw my last at-bat,” said Alex Gordon, who struck out in the ninth. “He had enough confidence in the ninth inning to throw me a 3-2 curveball. He did a great job. He was lights out tonight.”
Sánchez was pretty good when the Royals saw him on Aug. 29 at Kauffman Stadium, when he allowed one run in seven innings. Chen threw eight shutout innings that night before Greg Holland closed out a 1-0 victory.
Tuesday’s victory moved the Tigers into a tie with Chicago, which lost earlier in the day to Cleveland, atop the American League Central Division. Both teams are 82-72 with eight games remaining.
“It was a game they came into knowing they had to win,” Royals manager Ned Yost said, “and this kid stood up. He pitched an outstanding ballgame — a complete-game, three-hit shutout. You just take your hat off to him. It was pretty impressive.”
Chen (11-13) exited with the bases loaded in the seventh inning after following Omar Infante’s two-out triple with walks to Miguel Cabrera (intentional) and Prince Fielder (unintentional but four pitches).
Louis Coleman stranded all three runners with a three-pitch strikeout of Delmon Young.
All the scoring came in the Detroit first, which began with Chen losing an eight-pitch battle to Austin Jackson, who grounded a leadoff single up the middle. Omar Infante followed with a bloop single to center.
Cabrera sent a drive to deep left for the first out before Fielder dinked an RBI single into short center for a 1-0 lead. Infante took third on the play and scored when Delmon Young served a single to right.
That was it, although the Tigers had a chance to blow open the game after loading the bases with no outs in the second.
Avasail Garica and Gerald Laird opened the inning with singles before a wild pitch moved the runners to second and third. Jackson walked, which loaded the bases.
The runners held on Infante’s fly to short center before Chen escaped by striking out Cabrera and Fielder.
“What you saw in Chen was the art of pitching at its best,” Detroit manager Jim Leyland said. “He pitched like a surgeon when he got the bases loaded with nobody out.
“He elevated on Omar, got him to pop it up; fooled with Miggy with different speeds, and threw a great curveball to Prince. He was an absolute surgeon.”
Sánchez was better. He rolled through the first three innings in order with seven ground outs and throwing 25 of 30 pitches for strikes.
“First time around, we had our regular approach,” Yost said, “but we were 0-2 with everybody. We decided to get after him, and we still couldn’t center him up. We made a bunch of quick one-pitch outs the second time through the order.
“We just couldn’t center him up. He was just too good for us tonight.”
The Royals had two chances, in the fourth and sixth innings, but both came with two outs. Sánchez began the fourth by striking out Jarrod Dyson and Alcides Escobar before Gordon ended the 11-out string with a single.
Butler followed with a single, but Sánchez escaped when Cabrera made a leaping grab at third on Salvy Perez’s sharp liner. That saved a sure double and at least one run.
Cabrera admitted: “I was a very lucky.”
The Royals also mounted a two-out threat in the sixth inning when Escobar reached on a bunt single and stole second before Sánchez issued his first walk — on a borderline 3-2 pitch to Gordon.
Sánchez held the 2-0 lead by striking out Butler on a slider in the dirt. That started Sánchez on his 10-out roll to end the game.