Sanchez returned to Detroit before the rest of the team on Saturday, so that he could prepare for possibly the most important start of the season. However, the pitcher who dominated the league, without the hype or attention of Max Scherzer or Justin Verlander, couldn't be found.
Sanchez allowed a season-high six runs (five earned) on eight hits over 4 1/3 innings while striking out six and walking two in the Tigers' 6-3 loss to the A's in Game 3 of the AL Division Series. He also gave up three home runs -- two in the fifth inning -- after only giving up nine homers throughout the season.
Detroit is now down 2-1 in the ALDS, with Game 4 set for Tuesday at 5 p.m. ET on TBS.
In the first three innings, Oakland's leadoff batter was able to get on base. While Sanchez was playing with fire, he was ultimately able to get out of each jam without much harm as the A's went 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position, scoring one run on an error and leaving five runners on base.
"He obviously wasn't sharp," manager Jim Leyland said. "Sometimes he starts out a little slow, you figure he's going to get it going. Today, he just really didn't get it going."
After Josh Reddick's home run and Coco Crisp's sacrifice fly in the fourth inning, Detroit's offense rebounded to tie the game in its half, essentially giving Sanchez a fresh start.
"Normally, three runs gets it done with Anibal on the mound," catcher Alex Avila said, "but he wasn't as effective today."
Sanchez began the fifth inning by striking out Jed Lowrie, and he was able to get an 0-2 count on Brandon Moss. After Moss didn't chase on two pitches out of the zone, he smashed a changeup 393 feet into the right-field stands.
"These guys are good at getting ahead, and they do a good job of pitching you tough," Moss said. "In all honesty, I'm just trying to get a mistake, anything. So right there, I swung over a couple of pitches, and he left a changeup up and stayed back long enough to hit it."
Next up was a seven-pitch at-bat against Yoenis Cespedes, who singled to right. Sanchez, aware of Cespedes' speed, threw over to first base eight times while falling behind in the count to Seth Smith. Smith, who entered the game 7-for-19 with three career homers against Sanchez, drilled a home run over the left-field wall, giving Oakland a lead in the game it wouldn't relinquish.
"With their whole staff, you're looking for a mistake and hope you capitalize on it," Smith said. "And you will miss them sometimes, but fortunately for me, I was able to get the barrel to it. The fastball right there, and 3-1, and I don't think Yoenis Cespedes being on first hurt anything, with his speed and things that he can do."
Said Sanchez: "He's a good hitter. All those guys, I try to keep my ball down, like everyone, keep my off pitch out there. I missed the spot with the two-seamer. I tried to keep it outside and get a ground ball for a double play, but it's not something that happened on that pitch."
About as quickly as the Tigers evened the score, the A's were able to knock Sanchez out of the game. Following the All-Star break, Sanchez was third in the AL with a 2.20 ERA, allowing more than three runs in only two of his 14 starts.
It was an uncharacteristic performance from one of the most consistent pitchers on the team.
"It's not about one pitch was there or something like that," Sanchez said. "Today, it was something about location. My location, I think the pitch was in the middle, high, and they took that."
Unfortunately for the Tigers, it came at the worst time.
Sanchez attempted to duplicate the success of Scherzer and Verlander in Games 1 and 2, respectively. Instead, he's going to have to try to figure out what happened on Monday.
"I tried to be aggressive from the beginning of the game, and you know, it is what it is," Sanchez said. "At the end, it's part of the game. They have pretty good players, pretty good hitters, and it's not something that I'm outside of myself. At the end, it's part of the game."
Bobby Nightengale is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.