There are few moments on sports as marvelous as witnessing a pitcher who can make the ball dance like a puppeteer while leaving the batters nothing as he pulls the strings from the mound.
Sanchez had such a night on Friday when he mowed down an astonishing 17 Atlanta Braves batters through only eight innings, setting a franchise record as well as the single-game record for interleague play.
Astonishingly, the Braves were not exactly what one would call easy meat either, considering the team leads the majors in home runs and the National League in wins. Besides the 17 punch-outs, the Braves managed only a meek five hits and one walk.
Tigers manager Jim Leyland, pulled his flame-throwing starter after he had reached his 122nd pitch before the ninth inning, denying Sanchez the great opportunity to tie the major league strikeout record of 20.
While fans may disagree, Leyland's decision was the correct one. The victory was already in hand with the Tigers leading, 10-0, and the prospect of having Sanchez eventually throw 140-150 pitches on a cold night has the potential to harm him down the stretch in the heart of the season.
When asked if he would have like to stayed in the game to try and strike out the side in the ninth inning, Sanchez told James Schmehl (MLive), "I don't think too much about strikeouts and records and things like that."
The 29-year-old, who signed an $80 million, five-year deal over the offseason—dubbed by many as overpriced—has seemingly gained a following overnight. Sanchez, however, is not a pitcher who dropped a big game out of nowhere as many fans have seemed to assume.
Looking at his five starts this season, Sanchez has averaged only one earned run and less than two walks per start. That is consistent with his three postseason starts from last season when he helped the Tigers advance to the World Series with a 1.77 earned run average and two walks.
The Tigers, who came up short in the World Series last season, currently sit one game out of first place in the AL Central Division, knowing full well that pennants are not won in April.
However, if Sanchez continues being effective over the next couple months, all signs point to Prince Fielder, Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander having another teammate to help win the All-Star Game, increasing their chance for home-field advantage in the Fall Classic and bringing home a world championship.