Moe Szyslak: Okay, punching isn’t your thing. But that’s okay. You’re not that kind of fighter. What you’re gonna do is stand there while your opponent gets exhausted from over-punching.
Homer Simpson: Then I can just push him over.
Moe: That’s right, and if the ref’s not looking, you can kick him a couple of times.
The Pirates utilized Homer Simpson’s rope-a-dope strategy on Anibal Sanchez in a 5-3 victory Wednesday night. Sanchez efficiently carved up the Pirates through six innings, allowing his only two hits to Neil Walker. In the 7th inning, the Bucs (33-20) attacked for four runs on five hits to chase the Tigers’ starter and set up another win over the defending American League champions (29-21).
“He was unbelievable,” right fielder Travis Snider said. “You tip your cap for those first six and you really just try and go out there and hope that he leaves something over the plate.”
Sanchez pounded the strike zone to terrific results much of the game. He threw 54 strikes and only 12 balls in his first six innings, and his only miscue was leaving a fastball down the middle for Walker to drive into the seats for a solo home run. He didn’t even pitch into any three-ball counts, let alone any walks.
“We knew he was gonna be really good. We knew he threw a lot of strikes, especially to lefties,” Walker said after hitting three straight pitches for a homer, single and homer over two nights. “[He] threw a couple fourseam fastballs that I was able to get a couple hits on.”
In the 7th inning, Sanchez came apart at the four seams. After getting Andrew McCutchen to fly out, Sanchez gave up a single to Garrett Jones and surprisingly walked Russell Martin. On the next pitch, Pedro Alvarez smacked a high fastball for a double into left-center-field, tying the game.
“The whole day, [Sanchez] just located good pitches,” Alvarez said. “I was ready to hit the fastball and trying to react to anything else.”
Travis Snider drove the next pitch off the right-field wall to score Alvarez, then got to third base on a wild pitch. Then Jordy Mercer laid down a near-perfect suicide squeeze to score Snider and the fifth Pirates run.
“It was time,” Hurdle said. “Guy up there that can handle the bat… just seemed like a time to push the envelope a little bit and try to get another run.”
Sanchez was removed two batters later once Tigers manager Jim Leyland had reliever Drew Smyly loose. I tweeted this earlier, but it bears repeating:
- Anibal Sanchez in first 6 innings: 2 hits, 12 balls, 0 walks, 1 run.
- Anibal Sanchez in the 7th inning: 5 hits, 10 balls, 1 walk, 4 runs.
What a crazy turn of events for Sanchez, who struck out nine hitters on the evening and retired 10 in a row after Walker’s solo home run.
The Tigers’ starting pitcher received all his support in the 5th inning. A.J. Burnett walked Don Kelly the second of three times, who then reached second base on a wild pitch. Andy Dirks drove a 2-0 fastball into right-center to tie the game 1-1. One batter later, Miguel Cabrera shook off his mini-slump by ripping a belt-high fastball over the Clemente Wall for his 15th home run of the season, putting the Tigers up 3-1.
“You attack him like he’s any other hitter,” Burnett said about Cabrera. “Names don’t matter. They’re good hitters, but we’re good pitchers too. You make your pitch. I didn’t make my pitch.”
Burnett labored a bit over his six innings after working a high pitch count early, allowing five hits and four walks while only striking out four Tigers batters. With the Pirates once again unable to support him (the win went to Bryan Morris, who pitched a scoreless 7th inning), Burnett stays at three wins.
“I figured after the first couple innings, my pitch count was up, those are the days you’ve got to try to find a way to pitch,” Burnett said. “Somehow we got through six.”
Credit once again to the Pirates bullpen. Both Tony Watson and Jason Grilli pitched scoreless innings, and Grilli got Miguel Cabrera to fly out for his 22nd save in 22 opportunities. The Pirates go to a season-best 13 games over .500.
This fight against the champ goes to the Pirates offense, knocking out Anibal Sanchez in seven rounds.