Anibal Sanchez allowed just one hit through 7.2 innings as the Washington Nationals beat the St. Louis Cardinals 2-0 on Friday in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series at Busch Stadium.
Sanchez didn't allow a baserunner until the fourth inning and was one strike away from taking a no-hitter into the ninth before a Jose Martinez center-field single broke up the bid.
Nats closer Sean Doolittle earned the save to give Washington the victory.
Nationals SP Anibal Sanchez: 7.2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 5 K, 1 BB, W
Nationals 2B Howie Kendrick: 2-for-4, 2B, 1 R, 1 RBI
Nationals C Yan Gomes: 2-for-3, 2B, 1 RBI
Cardinals SP Miles Mikolas: 6 IP, 7 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 7 K, 2 BB, L
Cardinals PH Jose Martinez: 1-for-1
Sanchez's Gem Puts St. Louis in Tough Spot
Anibal Sanchez is 108-108 for his career with a 3.98 ERA in the regular season. He's never made an All-Star Game and only received a Cy Young vote in one of his 14 seasons.
That's an ordinary resume, but Sanchez has proved himself to be more than capable of delivering extraordinary performances.
On Friday, soft fly balls and easy outs were the norm for Sanchez as the Cardinals struggled on a 45-degree night in St. Louis, where the baseball failed to travel.
Cardinals left fielder Marcell Ozuna was the only St. Louis hitter who smacked the ball hard against Sanchez, but his second-inning effort harmlessly fell into the glove of center fielder Michael A. Taylor in front of the warning track.
Sanchez wasn't exactly blowing the Cardinals away with a powerful arsenal, as his fastball touched 91 mph. But St. Louis couldn't figure out the right-hander on a night where he made all the right moves and punched out five.
His latest effort is the cherry on top of a notable no-hit bid history, including one previous postseason effort.
The 35-year-old authored his first no-hitter in September 2006, when he and the then-Florida Marlins beat the Arizona Diamondbacks 2-0.
Seven years later, Sanchez got the ball in Game 1 of a league championship series, but this time it was for the Detroit Tigers in the Junior Circuit.
He mowed down the Boston Red Sox in six no-hit innings, striking out 12. Sanchez was lifted after throwing 116 pitches but still earned the 1-0 victory.
Coupled with his Friday performance, Sanchez became the only pitcher to earn a lofty distinction, per Sarah Langs of MLB.com:
He was brilliant Friday; however, his performance may have further implications than one evening.
Game 1 of the NLCS wasn't exactly a must-win for the Cards, especially considering that this series is far from over.
But their chances of winning the series have gotten far more difficult, with Nats aces Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin still to come.
All three pitchers struck out 238 or more batters, and all three posted ERA of 3.32 or less during the regular season. Scherzer and Strasburg are slated to start two games each if the series goes six games.
As Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post noted, that means the Cards will have to win two games with either ace on the mound to take the NLCS.
Also, the Nats will get back star reliever Daniel Hudson, who left the team for the birth of his daughter. The right-hander went 3-0 with a 1.44 ERA in 24 appearances for Washington this season. Mark Zuckerman of MASN Sports reported that he should return for Game 2.
In addition, Washington could get catcher Kurt Suzuki (head, wrist injuries) and center fielder Victor Robles (hamstring) back soon. Per Jesse Dougherty of the Washington Post, the two took on-field batting practice before the game.
Furthermore, St. Louis has now lost its home-field advantage, with the Nats having a shot to close the series in Washington even if they lose Game 2. The edge goes to Washington in that contest, however, with Scherzer taking the bump.
This series isn't over by any means, but Sanchez's masterpiece gives the clear edge to the Nats moving forward.
Washington and St. Louis will play Game 2 on Saturday at 4:08 p.m. ET in Busch Stadium. Scherzer will start for the Nats, and Adam Wainwright will do the same for the Cards.
TBS will provide the telecast.