DETROIT -- This is the Anibal Sanchez the Tigers traded top prospects to acquire.
This is the kind of game the Tigers acquired him to win, even though the game-winning delivery came from his catcher to seal a 3-2 victory over the Blue Jays on Wednesday night at Comerica Park.
"Today I just tried to keep the ball on the hitter's bat," Sanchez said. "I just tried to keep the ball on the right spot, tried to make the good pitch in the right moment and just throw my pitch."
When the Tigers skipped Sanchez's rotation spot last week, pitching coach Jeff Jones watched video of Sanchez's starts with the Miami Marlins, trying to find a quirk that might help explain 12 runs on 19 hits in 8 1/3 innings over his previous two outings, or three home runs in his Tigers debut in Toronto on July 28. He ended up talking as much about mind-set as mechanics.
"Don't press," Jones said he told Sanchez last weekend. "Don't try to do more than what you can. I told him, 'You're going to be huge for us down the stretch. You've been successful before and you're going to be successful again.'"
Sanchez seemed to take that to heart.
"I think everything happens for a reason," Sanchez said. "I got a week and a half and I used it to throw an extra bullpen and keep working hard. I don't put my face down -- all the time I put my face up and keep working. I've got more starts and I'm going to keep doing what I did today. ...
"Everything that we do during the week and a half and everything we talked about, that worked. Today I felt more relaxed, I felt more comfortable, and that's why I got the result today."
It couldn't have come at a much better time for the Tigers, who kept pace with the White Sox in the American League Central after another Chicago win against the Yankees. They'll go for a series sweep with Justin Verlander on the mound Thursday afternoon.
They again didn't produce a lot off another Blue Jays lefty, this time journeyman Aaron Laffey. Again, Detroit's pitching made sure they didn't need much.
"His stuff was really electric, probably as crisp as it's been since we got him," catcher Alex Avila said of Sanchez. "He looked great using all his pitches, had real good life on his fastball and good action on everything else."
Four weeks after that three-homer Jays barrage, Sanchez (2-3) allowed a lone extra-base hit in the rematch, a second-inning double with nobody on base. David Cooper's single was the only other hit through five innings until speedy Rajai Davis turned a leadoff walk into a run in the sixth with a stolen base, errant pickoff and an Edwin Encarnacion sinking liner to left.
Sanchez struck out six batters -- all but one of them after the fourth inning, and all swinging.
"Once we got through their lineup and seen them the second, third time around, we were able to mix it up like that," Avila said. "The thing is, he had good command of his offspeed stuff, and when he's able to do that the second or third time through rather than the first time with guys on base, it makes it more effective."
It was the kind of game the injury-plagued Jays, who lost Cooper midway through with a jammed neck, had to try to run their way through rather than homer. For that matter, so did the Tigers.
It took Omar Infante's fourth triple in as many weeks back with the Tigers to ignite the offense against Laffey, who held Detroit hitless the first time through the order. Infante was already at full speed when Davis booted the ball in left-center.
"He got that triple because he busted his tail all the way," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "You get triples out of the box, you don't get them between second and third. That was a big play for us."
That put Infante in position to trot home once Laffey bounced a breaking pitch in front of the plate.
Two aggressive calls from third-base coach Gene Lamont helped the other two runs. He sent Delmon Young against cannon-armed Moises Sierra in right field on Jeff Baker's fifth-inning liner and was rewarded when Sierra fired low and down the line.
Lamont's call on Austin Jackson in the sixth was a little easier after Prince Fielder's blooper fell in short left field.
The Jays matched it quite well the next inning with a hit-and-run play to set up Adeiny Hechevarria's sacrifice fly, but they couldn't run in the tying tally, not even off closer Jose Valverde.
Avila has had walk-off hits, but never a walk-off throw. Even with 45-year-old Omar Vizquel on base after his two-out pinch-hit single in the ninth, though, he was ready.
"He's gotten us so many times," Avila said.
Vizquel once beat the Tigers by stealing home for a go-ahead run in 2003. He was 36 and playing for Cleveland back then. Age might well have slowed him down, but he had to try.
Opponents were 11-for-11 stealing off Valverde this year, and 17-for-17 since Avila threw out Eric Hosmer trying to steal third on July 10, 2011.
"Valverde's a guy that has relatively slow release times," Jays manager John Farrell said. "We feel like even with our medium-speed runners, we're going to force [Avila] to make a perfect throw."
He got it.
"He got a huge jump," Avila said. "When Jose's on the mound and a guy takes off, I just try to get rid of it as quickly as possible and try to put a perfect throw, because I know a perfect throw's the only way I'm going to get a guy with him. I just released it quick enough and got it down there."