PITTSBURGH -- Unless Anibal Sanchez threw a no-hitter Wednesday night, he was going to have a hard time topping his last outing. For 6 1/3 innings, he wasn't far off, holding the Pirates to a run on two hits.
A dozen pitches later, he had given up a four-run seventh inning. Not only was the lead gone, but the Pirates had tacked on an insurance run.
That's how quickly the Pirates' rally escalated, and how suddenly the Tigers lost their grasp on a game they seemingly controlled.
"In the big leagues, stuff can happen fast," manager Jim Leyland said after the Tigers' 5-3 loss at PNC Park. "Obviously we didn't expect it to happen that fast."
The question that remained puzzling was: What happened?
"I think I started to overthrow," Sanchez said. "That's why I started missing the location. For these guys, you have to put the ball in the location. That's what helped me in the beginning of the game."
Leyland planned on talking with pitching coach Jeff Jones to try to figure out why that happened.
"He just walked a guy and kind of lost it," Leyland said.
It couldn't have been fatigue, Leyland said. Though Leyland said coming into the game he would keep an eye on Sanchez after he threw 130 pitches five days ago, he entered the seventh inning with just 66 pitches. He hadn't pitched with a runner on base since the opening inning.
Even after the seventh inning had gone awry, Sanchez's last out was a 95-mph fastball he fired past Gaby Sanchez for a strikeout.
"He was absolutely terrific for six innings," Leyland said. "To this moment, I don't think he was really tired. I don't think you throw the ball 95 mph to Gaby Sanchez if you're out of gas."
He hadn't shown any trouble pitching out of the stretch this season. Even going that long without a runner on base, without needing to make a pitch out of the stretch, shouldn't have had an impact.
"I don't know," Sanchez said. "It's really hard to tell you. We prepare for throwing everything in that situation."
They'll pinpoint something and work with Sanchez to shore it up before his next start. His form should return. They can't get this game back.
Five days after Sanchez took a no-hit bid into the ninth inning against the Twins, he no-hit every Pirate but Neil Walker for 6 1/3 innings, retiring 19 out of 21 batters. Walker's fourth-inning solo homer opened the scoring after his first-inning single assured Sanchez no chance of another no-hit watch.
After watching Walker single-handedly outscore them over 15 innings with two solo homers, the Tigers tied the game in the fifth on an Andy Dirks double before Miguel Cabrera took advantage of a fastball by former Marlins teammate A.J. Burnett for a two-run homer -- his 15th of the year -- and a 3-1 lead.
Sanchez took the lead and retired seven in a row. He ended the sixth with a three-pitch strikeout of Walker, all on sliders, to complete a nine-pitch inning. Not only had he not walked anyone, he hadn't reached a three-ball count.
"Before that [seventh] inning, I think everything was working good," Sanchez said, "especially location."
The bullpen at that point wasn't a consideration.
"It wasn't about getting anybody ready," Leyland said. "I wasn't even having anybody warm up with a guy that's got 66 pitches and pitching the way he is. "
After Andrew McCutchen flied out to lead off the seventh, Sanchez had an 0-2 count on Garrett Jones, who swung and missed at a slider before watching a 95-mph fastball.
Once Jones lined an 0-2 changeup into right-center field for a single, Sanchez was a different pitcher. Neither the slider, nor the fastball, nor the changeup hit the zone on Russell Martin, putting the tying run on base.
"I think that walk, at that point, I saw I was overthrowing my pitches," Sanchez said.
Out came Jeff Jones to give him a minute. He had barely gotten back to the dugout before the Pirates erased Detroit's lead.
"After that, I just got two pitches that made four runs," Sanchez said.
Pedro Alvarez lined the first into the gap to clear the bases. Travis Snider smacked the next off the right-field wall to put Pittsburgh in front.
"There weren't a whole lot of hittable pitches until that," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "He was so effective, he mixed his pitches so well, [it was] hard to sit on anything. He wasn't in the middle of the plate. ...
"I mentioned before, if there were a couple mistakes made over the plate, we needed to barrel up, and we were able to do that."
Jordy Mercer's squeeze bunt was the capper in the combination punch before Sanchez could gather himself. By the time he looked away from Snider sliding into home plate, Mercer was easily safe at first.
"It was an add-on run for them," Leyland said. "It was a good call, knowing that was a possibility. If we had known exactly what pitch it was going to be, we'd have pitched out. It was a great call by them, they executed it, and kudos to them for that."
After the Gaby Sanchez strikeout, Starling Marte's infield single to short was finally enough to knock out Anibal Sanchez. As quickly as it all happened, the bullpen never had a chance to rescue it.
Even with that inning, Sanchez (5-5) finished with just 93 pitches, 71 of them for strikes. In the end, Hurdle said much the same as Leyland.
"The game up here can change in a hurry," Hurdle said. "You just have to take advantage of opportunities when they present themselves."