May 28, 2014; Oakland, CA, USA; Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Anibal Sanchez (19) throws a pitch against the Oakland Athletics during the second inning at O.co Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports
Anibal Sanchez turned in what might prove to be his best pitching performance of the season, but it all will go for naught as the Detroit Tigers go down in defeat to the Oakland Athletics 3-1 on a walkoff home run in the bottom of the ninth inning.
Sanchez was stellar through eight innings — he struck out 10 batters, walked just one, and surrendered just a pair of hits — but things unraveled for the Tigers in the ninth. Sanchez returned to the mound with a pitch count hovering right around 100 to try to finish the game. Detroit owned a 1-0 lead and closer Joe Nathan was warming in the bullpen.
Alberto Callaspo would ground out to second base to lead off the inning after a lengthy at bat, but the first out of the ninth inning would prove to be the last out the Tigers could record. Coco Crisp followed with a double down the left field line — just the third hit Sanchez would allow — to put the tying run on base and chase Anibal from the game.
Nathan entered the game with one out in the ninth and Crisp on second base to face designated hitter John Jaso. Jaso lined a Nathan offering to third base, a step or so to Nick Castellanos‘ left, who seemed to be in position to make the play, but the ball bounced off his glove and into left field. Crisp had to scamper back to the bag (thinking the ball would be caught) so he couldn’t advance past third base, but it was runners on the corners with one out, and the go-ahead run was on base.
The Tigers were hoping for a ground ball to end the game — or at the very least to get out the of the inning tied — but Josh Donaldson had other ideas. He stepped to the plate and launched the first pitch he saw deep to left field for a three-run walkoff home run.
It was the fourth home run Nathan has given up this year already — in just 19.2 innings of work.
If you’re into pointing fingers, you can point in almost any direction. Nathan for making a bad pitch at a bad time. Castellanos for misplaying the would-be second out of the inning. Brad Ausmus for not simply going to his bullpen to start the inning. The entire offense for scoring just one run — a Torii Hunter solo homer. It ended up being a team defeat, and one that feels especially hard to take given the recent pitching struggles and the effort that Sanchez delivered.
Despite the woeful stretch, the Tigers still have a very good record (29-20) and the second-largest division lead in baseball. It’s not close to panic time for the struggling Tigers, but this fan certainly wants to see better baseball. And fast.