DETROIT -- Ask members of the 1968 Tigers which current Detroit pitcher they enjoy watching, and Justin Verlander is universally mentioned.
"Definitely Verlander," Mickey Lolich said Saturday during the team's 45th anniversary celebration. "And I love the bulldog attitude that [Max] Scherzer has. And then I get a kick out of watching [Doug] Fister pitch. I mean, he's got pitches coming from all over the place."
When Anibal Sanchez's name comes up, though, it evokes the same kind of surprise from Lolich as most Tigers fans have had since Sanchez's trade to Detroit last July.
"We have to remember Sanchez,; I never thought Sanchez would be the one to break my strikeout record," Lolich said.
It's understandable. Even those who have watched him every day are impressed.
"I've been amazed that he throws as hard as he does when he wants to," Al Kaline said. "And he's getting three, four pitches over the plate. I thought when he was with Miami, he would walk guys. You have to give a lot of credit to [pitching coach] Jeff Jones, I would imagine, but he seems to be around the plate a lot more."
Another thing that has impressed Kaline is how much Sanchez works between starts.
"I've never seen anybody work out as much as him," Kaline said. "He's a workaholic. He's in the exercise room every day. I can't believe he works out that much."
Lolich's single-game strikeout record (16) lasted more than 40 years, well longer than he ever expected. He thought Jack Morris would break it in the 1980s, then Verlander, then he started leaning toward Scherzer.
He had things to do April 26, the night Sanchez started racking up strikeouts through the innings on his way to No. 17, but he kept track of the game on his computer. When the game was over and he heard the strikeout total, he was impressed.
"You know, really, I don't know a whole lot about him," Lolich acknowledged. "I saw him pitch last year, and I saw his game last night. He pitched great last night. He's like a sleeper as far as I'm concerned. He's starting to do stuff that is quite impressive, so we have to keep an eye on him."
Lolich's former teammate, John Hiller, sees Sanchez filling out a great rotation.
"Golly, it's come to the point where all the starters do some exceptional things up there," Hiller said. "Verlander's self-explanatory. Scherzer has three fantastic pitches also. Sanchez, I'm a little surprised this year. I didn't know he was that good. The Tigers did, they signed him to a long-term contract."
Denny McLain, baseball's last 30-game winner, said Verlander was the kind of pitcher who could have succeeded in any era.
Kaline respects Mauer's ability, which Detroit knows
DETROIT -- How much respect does Hall of Famer Al Kaline have for Joe Mauer? At least enough that he was hoping Anibal Sanchez would pitch around him in the ninth inning Friday night with a no-hitter on the line.
"I figured he was the only guy who could break it," Kaline said. "The other guys are good, but he's special."
No, Kaline was not hoping for an intentional walk, as some fans clamored for on Twitter. And knowing how Sanchez challenged hitters all night, he could not have expected anything different. But as he watched Sanchez get back around to the top of the order, Kaline was quietly pulling for Sanchez not to challenge the Twins' All-Star catcher in the strike zone.
He has that much regard for the three-time batting champion.
"He was the one guy I feared," Kaline said. "He's such a great hitter. He puts the ball in play. Honestly, I was sitting up here and saying, 'Walk him. Bounce the ball. If he swings, fine. But walk him.'"
Mauer, of course, lined a 1-1 breaking ball through the middle.
The single was Mauer's 157th career hit against the Tigers, tying Detroit with Kansas City for the most Mauer hits. However, Mauer has played in so many more games against the Tigers that his .321 career average off Detroit's pitching is his lowest off any division opponents. He hits .355 against Kansas City, .338 against Cleveland and .322 against the White Sox.
Kaline respects the consistency of Mauer's approach.
"If it was a one-run game, other guys would be trying to jerk it out of the ballpark. But he stays within himself all the time," Kaline said. "He goes for base hits, doubles, and once in a while a home run."
Once in a while happened Saturday, when, after a video review, Mauer homered in his first at-bat against the Tigers for hit No. 158.
Bond between Detroit, '68 champions remains strong
DETROIT -- The players have aged, and the generations of fans have changed. But 45 years later, there is still a bond between this city and the 1968 World Series championship team.
Judging from the response during Saturday's pregame ceremony to honor the 45th anniversary of the championship, their place in history remains secure.
Part of that, players believe, is because of their championship run coming during a time of turmoil in the wake of the 1967 riots.
"It was a tough year for Detroit, '67 and '68," said John Hiller, a reliever on that team, "and I think it was a special thing we were all part of. I don't think we saved the city, but we were a part of the whole process of the city healing after that. We were a part of that.
"I think the people remember us because we came back so many times."
One point Denny McLain made was that so many of those players lived in the area, including in the offseason.
Mickey Lolich believes the close race the Tigers lost in 1967 on the final day of the season also played a factor.
After brief time with Tigers, Colabello faces them
DETROIT -- The Twins' efforts to try to spark their offense amid a 10-game losing streak led them to start Chris Colabello at designated hitter Saturday, earning him his second consecutive start since finally making the big leagues.
His path to the Majors was a long one across several Major League organizations. One of them was the Tigers, who signed him out of their tryout camp in 2006.
Colabello, then a 22-year-old first baseman, spent about three weeks in the organization before the Tigers had to make a roster decision. He went back to independent ball with Worcester (Mass.) of the Can-Am League.
He finally got his shot in the upper levels of the Minor Leagues last year, when he drove in 98 runs for Double-A New Britain.