BOSTON -- Anibal Sanchez used to dream about pitching at Fenway Park in a big game.
Oh, he was a tourist, too. He remembers sitting in the seats on top of the Green Monster once. But he remembers the guys on the mound more.
"I played in two leagues really close to here," Sanchez said. "I played [in 2004] in Lowell, Mass., really close to here. And Portland, Maine [where he played in 2005] is really close, too. When I was in the Minor Leagues, I remember I came to a lot of games [when] Pedro Martinez [was] pitching. And I say one day I would like to have the uniform and be here. But that's what you think at that moment."
Nearly a decade later, he's got his big game at Fenway to open the American League Championship Series. When he finally takes the mound there Saturday night (live on FOX at 8 p.m. ET), however, he'll have the other uniform on.
Long before the Jose Iglesias trade, there was the Sanchez deal, sending him, Hanley Ramirez and two prospects to the Marlins. The Red Sox picked up Josh Beckett, Mike Lowell and a World Series championship in 2007. Sanchez got a chance to blossom in South Florida until he became the veteran Marlins starter on the move last summer.
Detroit gave up prospects to trade for him, went to the World Series last October, signed him to a new contract and completed the American League's toughest rotation. Now the Tigers' path back to the Fall Classic takes him back through Boston. And his opposing starter will be Jon Lester, his old teammate in Portland in 2005.
Tale of the Tape: Game 1
|2013 regular season|
|Overall: 33 GS, 15-8, 3.75 ERA, 67 BB, 177 K||Overall: 29 GS, 14-8, 2.57 ERA, 54 BB, 202 K|
|Key stat: 2.19 ERA in final 10 regular season starts||Key stat: 2.57 ERA led the American League in regular season|
|At Fenway Park|
|2013: 13 GS, 7-1, 3.09 ERA
Career: 103 GS (104 G), 46-26, 3.78 ERA
|2013: 0 G
Career: 0 G
|Against this opponent|
|2013: 2 GS, 2-0, 4.26 ERA
Career: 7 GS, 2-2, 4.63 ERA
|2013: 0 G
Career: 1 G, 0-0, 14.54 ERA
|Loves to face: Prince Fielder, 4-for-15
Hates to face: Miguel Cabrera, 10-for-19, 1 HR
|Loves to face: Shane Victorino, 10-for-43, 1 HR
Hates to face: David Ortiz, 3-for-3, 2 HR
|Why he'll win: Has allowed three earned runs or fewer in eight of nine postseason appearances||Why he'll win: Career 3.10 ERA in September/October|
|Pitcher beware: Tigers batters have a lifetime .378 average off Lester||Pitcher beware: Has never pitched in Fenway Park|
|Bottom line: Get ahead early in count and establish cutter||Bottom line: Take advantage of facing hitters for the first time, keep them off-balance|
"I think we were probably completely different pitchers back then -- naive, young, stupid, throwers," Lester said. "But obviously [I've been] watching him over the past couple of years in Florida and now Detroit really mature and figure out who he is."
Sanchez has long since made his peace with that part of his career. He has faced the Red Sox once, back in his rookie season of 2006, but not since.
"I think I'm a baseball open mind," he said Friday in the interview room at Fenway Park. "I think everything is business. The Red Sox needed a couple people. At the end, it's a business. I'm feeling good right now. I like my team, and I'm really good over here."
He's stingy good, having won the ERA title (2.57) in his first full season in the American League. And if not for Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer on the same staff, he'd be looming as an ace against his old squad to open the ALCS.
Logistically, the Tigers had no choice but to start Sanchez. The other three members of their postseason rotation -- Scherzer, Verlander and Doug Fister -- all pitched in one of the last two games of the Division Series. As an only option, though, they couldn't have laid it out much better.
"He led this league in earned run average," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "That's pretty impressive."
So was his strikeout rate. With 202 strikeouts over 182 innings, he fanned 10 batters per nine innings. Two more strikeouts for the season would've matched him with 21-game winner Scherzer for the team lead. Had he not missed three weeks with a strained right shoulder, he would've had a chance for a stellar season.
It would've have rivaled a Pedro Martinez season, but it was in that mold. To Lester, however, Sanchez doesn't have to compare himself to anybody.
"I think that's everybody's kind of nemesis when you get called up is figuring out who you are as a pitcher," Lester said. "You try to model yourself off of a lot of people growing up and in the Minor Leagues, and when you get to the big leagues you have to figure out who you are. And I think he's done a good job of that. Obviously, his stats speak for themselves."
Sanchez was a postseason workhorse for the Tigers last October, which made his struggles in Game 3 of the Division Series look foreign. With a fastball he couldn't throw to his spots and offspeed pitches that hung, he gave up more home runs to the A's (three) than he gave up in his final six regular-season starts combined.
The next day, he started getting ready for this, holding faith that the Tigers could dig out of a Division Series deficit and return to the ALCS. He's got his chance now, and yet it's a familiar foe he hasn't seen in years.
"It's a big day for me, especially because I'm going to start the series again," he said. "This team, a pretty good team. But I think every day is different. I need to keep working. I need to be focused tomorrow."