Through all his travails this season, one unwavering belief has kept him sane, kept him at the grinding wheel and pushing doggedly forward — the belief that he was still a capable and competent big-league pitcher.
He earned a measure of validation Friday night, limiting a sizzling Chicago White Sox offense to one run over six innings, striking out a season-best 11 and the Tigers walked-off the White Sox 3-2 on a two-out, winning single by Mikie Mahtook in the bottom of the ninth.
This after he'd been lit up in his previous five starts (25 runs, 36 hits, 11 home runs in 16 innings). This after he'd started the season in the bullpen, took a demotion to Toledo, fought his way off the disabled list a couple of times and finally back into the Tigers' rotation.
Against a White Sox team that pounded out 17 runs and 25 hits on Thursday and was hitting .387 as a team over the last six games, Sanchez killed them softly. Killed them with pinpoint command of his entire multi-pitch repertoire, by mixing speeds and using all four quadrants of the plate.
He threw four different fastballs, all out of the same arm slot and all with different speed and movement — four-seamer at 91-92 mph, two-seam sinker at 91, cutter at 90 and split-fingered fastball at 83. The splitter was the money pitch. Of his 17 swings and misses, seven came on the split.
Of his 19 called strikes, eight came on his four-seam. One was setting up the other, and with his slow curve, change-up and slider mixed in, he kept the White Sox hitters off balance.
His only mistake was a cutter over the heart of the plate to Yoan Moncada in third inning that he sent on a line into the right-field seats.
Sanchez ended his night by striking out Avisail Garcia (looking at a sinker), Nicky Delmonico (swinging at a slider) and Matt Davidson (swinging at a four-seamer) in the sixth.
It was the first quality start thrown by a Tiger since Justin Verlander's final start with the club on Aug. 30. It was Sanchez's first double-digit strikeout game since August 2016.
All that was left for the Tigers to do after that performance was win the game.
They tied the score in the fourth inning off White Sox starter Carson Fulmer on an RBI single by Nick Castellanos. The hit extended his hitting streak to a career-high 12 games.
Tyler Collins, another player who's had a tumultuous ride this season, broke a 1-1 tie with a majestic home run to right field off reliever Gregory Infante. It was his first home run since May 17, the day he hit a pair of home runs off the Orioles.
Collins was the team's starting right fielder at the start of the season and struggled mightily, going hitless in 30 at-bats in one stretch. He wound up getting designated for assignment, clearing waivers and being re-signed to Triple-A Toledo where he spent June, July and August.
He wasn't among the initial September call-ups and figured his career as a Tiger was over. But an injury to Mikie Mahtook gave him a reprieve. The home run was a nice show of gratitude, but it didn't hold up.
The White Sox tied it in the top of the eighth. With one out, Alex Wilson hit Jose Abreu and gave up an infield single to Garcia. After he got the second out, manager Brad Ausmus summoned closer Shane Greene.
Matt Davidson rolled a soft single to right field — second baseman Ian Kinsler was positioned more up the middle — that scored Abreu and tie the game.
The bottom of the eighth inning ended with former Tiger Al Alburquerque striking out Miguel Cabrera. Cabrera whiffed badly on a slider away and out of the strike zone, then was frozen on a fastball up and in that replays showed to be outside the zone.
But the Tigers took advantage of two walks in the ninth — by Jeimer Candelario and Collins. Mahtook then delivered his first ever walk-off hit and the Tigers' first since Justin Upton's home run beat the Twins on Aug. 12.