- Jackie MacMullan, ESPN Senior Writer
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BOSTON -- The Red Sox had already identified the narrative before they thrust open their clubhouse doors after a nearly four-hour pitchers' duel that left them with one skimpy hit and a suddenly disarming 1-0 deficit at Fenway in this American League Championship Series. "Right, right, I get it,'' said right fielder Shane Victorino. "We lost this one and we haven't even seen [Max] Scherzer or [Justin] Verlander yet. What, so that means it's over for us?
"Well, they haven't seen [Clay] Buchholz or [John] Lackey yet. It's only one game. Tomorrow could be completely different than what you saw today.''
The Red Sox need to believe that's true. In fact, they must find a way Sunday morning to make sure that turnaround is the latest twist to the plot of this series, because the Detroit Tigers reload for Game 2 with certain Cy Young winner Scherzer, while Boston counters with Buchholz, the Sox starter who was on the mound for the one loss in the ALDS series against Tampa Bay.
It was a night of frustration for a Sox lineup that arrived at the ballpark brimming with confidence and feeding off their good baseball karma but limped home on the wrong end of a 1-0 score.
They squandered an outing in which their ace, Jon Lester, battled through 5-plus innings of shutout baseball and gave up just one run in 6 1/3 innings pitched.
Tigers righty (and former Boston prospect) Anibal Sanchez bedeviled them for six confounding innings of no-hit baseball. Detroit manager Jim Leyland pulled him after the sixth when his pitch count had climbed to 116. Sanchez utilized his arsenal of pitches to keep Boston's hitters off balance, mixing his slider and his sinker with a 95 mph four-seam fastball and striking out 12. Though Sanchez had electric stuff, his no-hit performance was hardly what you'd call pristine. He also walked six batters and unleashed two wild pitches along the way.
Boston had runners on the base paths in three of the six innings Sanchez pitched but at various points of the evening became a tad too preoccupied with home plate umpire Joe West, who rang the Sox up for six called strikeouts and a handful more of check swing K's. The Sox struck out 17 times in total.
Never mind that most of the calls West made happened to be correct. It appeared at times that the Red Sox hitters, who were clearly laying off pitches because of Sanchez's control issues, were getting too caught up in the umpire's strike zone.
Asked about it after the game, manager John Farrell said, "To say the umpiring is the reason why we didn't get a hit until the ninth inning, that would be a little short-sighted on my part.''
(Not to mention unwise -- and inaccurate).
It didn't take long for Boston's agitation at the plate to manifest itself. The Sox's very first batter, Jacoby Ellsbury, was caught looking at a 93 mph fastball for strike three and immediately made his displeasure known. Victorino followed with a K of his own, but that was Sanchez's wild pitch, which enabled Victorino to scamper to first when the ball skirted away from catcher Alex Avila.
Big Papi worked Sanchez to a full count, then attempted to retract his bat on the 3-2 pitch, but third-base umpire Alfonso Marquez decreed he had come far enough around to be punched out.
Ortiz clearly saw it differently. He was one of many Sox hitters throughout the evening who walked back to his dugout shaking his head.
Who would have guessed that first inning would be Boston's best opportunity all night to push some runs across? Sanchez was that sharp, and that deceptive.
"His slider, and his changeup ... it's late,'' Pedroia explained. "You commit to it, and then when it goes out of the zone, you try to stop. It's quality stuff.''
Even with a dominant performance from Sanchez, the Red Sox were still in the game down to the final pitch. After breaking up the Tigers' no-hitter in the bottom of the ninth, they advanced the tying run into scoring position but simply couldn't deliver.
"You almost feel like you're behind in this ballpark with [a] one-run [lead],'' said Tigers manager Jim Leyland. "With the Monster, although the ball wasn't really carrying tonight, you never feel comfortable.''
Boston's final glimmer of hope came in the form of a gritty at bat from Daniel Nava. He fouled off a couple of pitches and fell behind 1-2 in the count before punching a single into left field off closer Joaquin Benoit. Quintin Berry came in to pinch-run for him and stole his 25th base in 25 tries. Yet neither Drew nor Xander Bogaerts could bring him home, and the Tigers skipped off with the first salvo in what promises to be a scintillating series.
"I'll take this game nine times out of 10,'' declared catcher David Ross. "We got great pitching, guys battled and we pushed the envelope right to the end.''
And, yet, the Red Sox have been around the postseason enough to understand their road to redemption just got significantly rockier. They were unable to preserve their home-field advantage, they didn't post a W with their top pitcher giving up just one run and they haven't even faced the Tigers' best two front-line starters yet.
"I like my chances in a game like this,'' Lester insisted afterward. "He [Sanchez] did his job. He minimized the damage, skirted around some walks, made some great pitches.
"Sometimes you just have to tip your hat. That was the theme of the conversation tonight.''
That might well have been the narrative in the Red Sox clubhouse following Game 1 of the ALCS, but elsewhere, the alarms have begun ringing. Boston, the darlings of the 2013 baseball season, the guys who defied the odds and reversed around their fortunes, suddenly find themselves in a situation in which things didn't go their way.
"It's over,'' Victorino said. "Gone. We're one to the next one. That's what we've done all year.''
And, if they plan to keep their redemption on a role, it's exactly what they need to do tonight.