Moments later, the home crowd roared a little louder when the AL Central standings were posted on the scoreboard in left field — with the Tigers back in a tie for first.
"We control our own destiny. We've just got to continue to play good baseball," catcher Gerald Laird said. "We don't have to rely on anybody to beat anybody now. It's all on our shoulders."
Sanchez threw his first shutout in over a year, and the Tigers caught the Chicago White Sox atop the division with a 2-0 victory over the Kansas City Royals on Tuesday night. Detroit had spent only one day in first since the start of August. The Tigers were tied with the White Sox after beating them Sept. 2 — but quickly fell back.
Now it's even again with eight games to play. Even in this season of expanded playoffs, Detroit and Chicago are in an old-fashioned division race with seemingly everything at stake — because a wild card isn't a likely option.
The White Sox lost 4-3 to Cleveland earlier in the day, then Sanchez (4-6) took the mound and retired the first 11 hitters he faced.
The Tigers trailed the White Sox by three games on the morning of Sept. 19, but they've made up the ground and will have a chance to win a second straight division title if they can finish strongly enough.
"Nothing is over, nothing is in," Sanchez said. "We're right there."
Sanchez allowed only three hits. He struck out 10 and walked one. Sanchez threw 105 pitches in his first shutout since Sept. 10, 2011, when he tossed a one-hitter for Florida at Pittsburgh.
Bruce Chen (11-13) gave up RBI singles by Prince Fielder and Delmon Young in the first inning.
Sanchez pounded the strike zone early in his best start since coming over to Detroit from Miami in a July trade. Only one Royals player hit the ball out of the infield until Alex Gordon and Billy Butler broke up the perfect game bid with consecutive singles in the fourth for Kansas City.
Sanchez got out of that jam when Salvador Perez's line drive was snagged by third baseman Miguel Cabrera.
"Sanchez did a real good job," Chen said. "One of those games where you just have to tip your hat."
The Tigers hit six singles in the first two innings, but Chen was able to limit the damage by getting out of a bases-loaded, nobody-out situation in the second. Omar Infante hit a shallow fly, and Cabrera and Fielder both struck out.
Detroit didn't really threaten again until the seventh, when reliever Louis Coleman struck out Young with the bases loaded for the third out.
Chen allowed two runs and 10 hits in 6 2-3 innings.
Sanchez now has six quality starts in his last seven outings. In the third, he stopped Eric Hosmer's comebacker with his bare hand, picked up the ball and threw it hard over to Fielder at first for the out. He made another hard throw to first on Jarrod Dyson's 1-3 groundout in the eighth.
Sanchez said he tries to throw to first like he throws home, since he can be wild when trying to ease up.
"He threw it good. It had a little movement on it, too," Fielder said. "Perfect throw. I just wasn't ready for it."
There was activity in the Detroit bullpen to start the ninth, but Sanchez returned to the mound to a warm ovation from the crowd and retired the side in order.
Cabrera went hitless, ending his 14-game hitting streak.
NOTES: The time of game was 2 hours, 13 minutes. ... The Tigers acquired RHP Greg Ross from Atlanta as the player to be named in an Aug. 31 deal that sent Jeff Baker to the Braves. Ross will be assigned to Class A Lakeland. ... Detroit RHP Rick Porcello (9-12) faces Kansas City RHP Jeremy Guthrie (4-3) on Wednesday night.