BOSTON – They were a pair of promising 21-year-old pitchers.
Portland Sea Dogs teammates Jon Lester and Anibal Sanchez both pitched in the 2005 Eastern League playoffs.
“I think we were probably completely different pitchers back then,” Lester said. “Naive, young, stupid; you know, throwers.
“But obviously watching him over the past couple of years in Florida and now Detroit, he’s really matured and figured out who he is.”
Sanchez was traded after that 2005 season to the Marlins, a deal that also sent Hanley Ramirez to Florida in exchange for Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell.
Ramirez, who played in Portland in 2005, would face Lester in the World Series should the Red Sox and Dodgers make it that far.
While Boston gave up two stellar prospects, the Red Sox never regretted the trade because without Beckett and Lowell, they wouldn’t have won the 2007 World Series.
Now, with Sanchez starting Saturday night for the Detroit Tigers in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series, will he play a part in keeping the Red Sox from another World Series?
Sanchez’s first playoff start this season was not a good one (five earned runs in 41/3 innings in a loss to Oakland), but Tigers Manager Jim Leyland didn’t hesitate to name him Saturday’s starter.
“I feel very confident in him,” Leyland said. “I think he was probably a little rusty (against Oakland). I think he’ll be back in the groove.
“He led this league in earned-run average (.2.57). That’s pretty impressive.”
Sanchez has always been impressive, which is why the Red Sox signed him as a 16-year-old out of Venezuela in 2001.
He underwent Tommy John surgery in 2003 but was back in 2004, pitching for the Lowell Spinners, just 30 miles north of Fenway Park. Fenway was a place Sanchez envisioned himself competing in.
“I came down a couple of times, watched a couple of games,” Sanchez said. “I came to a lot of games if Pedro Martinez was pitching.
“I said one day I would like to have that uniform and be here.”
Sanchez made it to Hadlock Field for the second half of the 2005 season. He joined a rotation headed by Lester, the Eastern League pitcher of the year. The Sea Dogs reached the league championship series, losing in four games to Akron. Lester won Game 1. Sanchez was the losing pitcher in Game 2.
Sanchez was on a limited pitch count that year and there was concern about the health of his arm.
Still, the Marlins wanted him and Boston said goodbye.
“The Red Sox needed a couple of people — at the end it’s a business,” Sanchez said.
Sanchez demonstrated his stuff on Sept. 2, 2006 when he threw a no-hitter against the Arizona Diamondbacks.
But he had trouble staying healthy. He made a total of 32 starts from 2007-09.
He rebounded, kept his career ERA under 4.00 and entered his free-agent year last season. The cash-strapped Marlins traded him to the Tigers. They re-signed him to a five-year, $80 million deal.
He was 14-8 with that terrific ERA.
“The stats speak for themselves,” Lester said. “When you get to the big leagues, you have to figure out who you are. I think he’s done a good job of that.”
Kevin Thomas can be contacted at 791-6411 or at: