DETROIT -- Finally the Detroit Tigers have pulled even.
Right-hander Anibal Sanchez held the Kansas City to three hits in a complete game and the Tigers' 2-0 victory over the Royals on Tuesday night put them in a first-place tie in the American League Central.
"They needed the win and he stood up and said, 'I'm going to go get it for us,'" Royals manager Ned Yost said. "That's as good a game as you're going to see."
The Tigers, well before Sanchez's first pitch, knew that the White Sox had lost to the Indians and, with a victory, they'd join the White Sox atop the division standings. They hadn't been even since Sept. 2. The idea, of course, is to be in first place all alone, something the Tigers have not experienced since July 23.
What can a team do when Sanchez is really on his game?
"Good luck, go to church and pray, because it's not going to be fun," said his teammate Delmon Young. "That's why pitchers drive Mercedes-Benz too."
The last time left-hander Bruce Chen faced the Tigers, his mound opponent also was Sanchez. Chen went eight scoreless innings in a 1-0 victory and Sanchez gave up the one run over seven innings.
This time, however, the Tigers dealt Chen a two-run blow in the first inning on four singles -- by Austin Jackson, Omar Infante, Prince Fielder and Young. As it turned out, those were the only two runs of the game.
"They came ready to play. I left a couple pitches up and they got some base hits," Chen said. "But we played hard and we never gave in."
Neither did he.
Chen found himself in deep trouble again in the second inning, when the Tigers filled the bases with none out on singles by Avisail Garcia and Gerald Laird and a walk to Jackson. But Chen escaped by getting Infante on a pop fly to center and then striking out both Miguel Cabrera and Fielder.
"That's huge, bases loaded and the two biggest RBI guys coming to the plate," Chen said. "I think Salvador [Perez] did a real good job of staying with our game plan, we didn't change anything. We stayed stubborn, made some pitches and struck them both out."
The Tigers had another bases-loaded chance against Chen in the seventh inning after two outs, when Infante tripled, Cabrera was intentionally walked and Fielder drew an unintentional pass. Yost came to the mound to check on his veteran lefty.
"I didn't have any intention of taking Bruce out against Fielder, I just went out to check his tank and see how he was doing," Yost said. "I liked the matchup, Bruce had handled Prince pretty good the first three times."
This time, though, Chen pitched Fielder very carefully, just missing and walking him on four pitches. That put an end to Chen's outing and right-hander Louis Coleman struck out Young to end the inning.
Chen's gritty performance drew raves from the Tigers' side of the field.
"I think what you saw in Chen was really the art of pitching at its best," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "Sanchez was the hero, but when you think of what Chen did, it was also pretty good. He pitched like a surgeon when he got the bases loaded, nobody out. He elevated on Omar, got him to pop it up, fooled with Miggy at different speeds, then threw a great curveball to Prince. So he was an absolute surgeon. He was terrific as well. Sanchez was just a little better."
Count Laird, the Tigers' catcher, as a fan, too.
"That's Chen. Chen's a crafty guy," Laird said. "He's been around a long time, and that's what those guys do. And when you try to think with him, he can just ruin it for you, because you try to think along with him and next thing you know, he's throwing fastballs when you don't think he's throwing fastballs. That's why he's been pitching for a long time, because of games like tonight."
Sanchez, from the outset, was flashing no-hit stuff and retired the first 11 batters. Alex Gordon and Billy Butler ended that with back-to-back singles, but Perez's sizzling liner was picked off at third base by a leaping Cabrera to end the threat.
"If he hits it an inch higher, it's a double and that changes the whole complexion of the game," Yost said.
The Royals' only other hit was Alcides Escobar's bunt single with two outs in the sixth. He swiped second -- his 32nd stolen base -- and Gordon walked but Butler struck out. From that point, Sanchez retired the last 10 batters of the game.
"His curveball was devastating tonight," Yost said. "The first time around, we had our regular approach but we were 0-and-2 on everybody. So we looked up and the kid had like 30 strikes and five balls. So let's get after him and we still couldn't center him up. He was just too good for us tonight."
Sanchez threw 105 pitches -- 77 for strikes. He walked one and struck out 10.
"Same story, different night," Gordon said, alluding to Justin Verlander's dominating win for the Tigers on Monday night. "Throwing all the pitches for strikes. His curveball was pretty sharp, it was firm and he was throwing for strikes."
"He was throwing four pitches for strikes and from pitch one to the last pitch of the game, he was dominant," Butler said. "He pitched a great game. I don't think he made one bad pitch."
From the Tigers' perspective, their midseason acquisition from Miami picked the perfect night to be so perfect.
"That was a big situation for them," Gordon said. "They just tied the White Sox. He produced for them tonight."
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.