A few weeks ago, Bay Area sports personality Shooty Babitt attributed Jonathan Sanchez’s lack of success to his lack of nickname. San Francisco has The Freak (Lincecum), Cainer (Cain), the Big Unit (Johnson), Big Z (Zito), but Sanchez is sans-pseudonym so far this year.
Third-base coach Tim Flannery recently coined a new nickname for the left-hander, taking from Russell Crowe’s character in Gladiator, calling him “The Spaniard.” His reasoning behind it was simple, as was how it related to Sanchez.
Win, and you live to fight again. Lose, and there are no more chances.
Last night, Jonathan Sanchez won, and won convincingly. He became the first Giant to throw a no-hitter since 1976 (John Montefusco), and the first to throw one in San Francisco since 1975 (Ed Halicki).
For most of 2008 and all of 2009, Jonathan Sanchez has been the most frustrating piece of the San Francisco puzzle. His career record is 15-26, and a 2-8 record in 2009 hasn’t really shown Giants fans why he should stick around.
Up to now, he’s basically been a big tease. Sanchez had stuff that is flat-out dirty, with a lively fastball and a filthy slider.
But his big problem has been managing that stuff. Sanchez has 68 strikeouts in 69 innings, before last night’s game, but also has 46 walks and four hit batsmen.
His other problem has been stamina. Originally groomed as one of the many starter/long-reliever combos out of the Giants system (see Correia, Hennessey, Misch), Sanchez has never been past the sixth inning this season.
In fact, last night’s game was the first complete game of his professional career. Not just his major-league time, but also his entire time spent in the minors.
Some games Sanchez is lights-out for the first time through the lineup, but the second or third time gets rocked, or walks a few batters. Those games are the most frustrating as fans, as they see the potential that Giants scouts say they’ve seen.
But last night was nothing short of remarkable. And a no-hitter was the farthest thing from anyone’s mind. Here are some of the plentiful reasons why no one expected this last night...
The Giants have two pitchers headed to the All-Star Game in St. Louis. Neither is Jonathan Sanchez.
Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain have both dominated this season, and earned their spots on in the Midsummer Classic. They’ve thrown six complete games and two shutouts between them, but nothing close to a no-hitter.
The Giants have three Cy Young winners on the team. None are Jonathan Sanchez.
Randy Johnson has won five of the awards, the last in 2002. Barry Zito also won his in 2002, and Lincecum won his last year in 2008.
The Giants had a five-man pitching rotation going into last Sunday. None were Jonathan Sanchez.
Sanchez had been demoted from the rotation after his fourth straight loss on June 23. Ryan Sadowski came up and dominated his first two starts, going sixteen scoreless innings to start his career before losing against the Marlins and being optioned to AAA.
Randy Johnson was supposed to start last night, but strained his shoulder on Sunday against Houston. Johnson, coincidentally the only pitcher on the Giants roster to throw a no-hitter, is now on the DL, with Sanchez taking his spot in the rotation for the time being.
To make the situation a little more complicated, starting catcher Bengie Molina was a last-minute scratch from the lineup after his wife went into labor.
Eli Whiteside stepped in and helped coax a fantastic pitching performance out of Sanchez, mixing the pitches and calling a beautiful game from behind the plate.
Since his demotion, all Sanchez has wanted was another chance. And last night Sanchez was, in fact, pitching for his life. It was a make or break start for the 26-year-old, and after three weeks out of the bullpen, he knew that he had something to prove.
As a Giants fan, we have seen this before, and with good results. Matt Cain was put in the bullpen early in his first full season after a rough stretch, only to come back rejuvenated and to finish the year strong.
In 2008 Barry Zito was sent to the pen after his 0-6 start to the year, and ended the year going 10-11 the rest of the way.
Sanchez, looking for similar results, proved to everyone that sometimes all you need a little time off.
There were many things that made last night special, and a couple others that bode well for Sanchez and his future in the rotation.
His fastball was sharp, and apparently the work he did with Dave Righetti while in the bullpen worked, because when he started to get off track, like we’ve seen all season, he quickly turned it around and rediscovered his arm slot.
He also changed his mind about his breaking ball, which Sanchez personally categorized as a “slurve” and not a slider or a curveball. Last night he was definitely throwing a curveball, and he was locating it very well, using it to steal a strike and also striking out a few batters with it as well.
Sanchez was hungry out there tonight. Often criticized for his calm demeanor, which can come off as nonchalant, he appeared more focused on making outs than he was about surviving an inning.
To have such a blow to confidence as banishment to the bullpen seems to have alerted Sanchez to acquire that hunger that the other Giants seem to have right now. You can see it when Lincecum takes the hill.
He wants to win, wants to hit, and wants to field his position. Cain and Zito have the look this year. And everyone knows about Randy Johnson’s game face.
Anyone who failed to see that fire in the eyes of Jonathan Sanchez tonight must be blind. A fantastic outing that will not be forgotten for a long time, Sanchez has earned another start.
And for the first time this year, I’m looking forward to it.