Sunday, July 19, 2009

Improbable Perfection

Jonathan Sanchez throws baseballs for a living. He does not throw them exceedingly well, but good enough to be a left handed pitcher in the Major Leagues for the San Francisco Giants. Until 10 days ago, he was a sometimes starter and relief pitcher for the team for two years and part of a third. He began his professional career at the age of 23, pitched two full years in the high minors and then in 2006 had a “cup of coffee” as they say with the Giants. The next year he went back to Fremont in AAA ball before coming back to the Giants for good that year pitching only 52 innings, yielding 57 hits and 28 walks. The scouting reports said he was prone to inconsistency and wildness. He is now 26 years old.

Yet on July 10, 2009, he did the improbable.

Sanchez is not having a good year. He had won only two games, lost eight, and found that the starting role he thought would be his was gone. He was languishing in the bullpen wondering about it all. He had worked hard in the spring to become the starter he had always hoped to be. Old habits came back to haunt him when the season started. He walked too many, stuck out too few, and had trouble keeping the ball in the ballpark. A month ago the Giants had signed the future Hall of Fame pitcher Randy Johnson who had made his mark on baseball as an Arizona Diamondback, suffered indignity and injury as a New York Yankee, has won 303 games, pitched a no hitter, won a World Series, and was clearly not going to sit behind Jonathan Sanchez .

Tonight it was his turn. But he had hurt his shoulder in his last start, so manager Bruce Bochy went back to Jonathan Sanchez. He called his father in Puerto Rico and told him he was starting again after three weeks. His father got on a plane and arrived in San Francisco at midnight.

At 7:05 on a Friday night, the 10th day in July , Jonathan Sanchez threw strike one to the San Diego Padres lead off hitter and shortstop named Everth Caberra to start the game in front of more than 30,000 fans in his home ball park.

Three electrifying hours later, he had faced only 28 Padre batters, one more than the minimum because his third baseman required three bounces and a bruised chest to pick up one of the many ground balls he threw this night. When it was done, the same Everth Caberra stood at home plate, the eleventh Padre of the night to admire strike three.

Jonathan Sanchez had pitched the first no hitter for the San Francisco Giants since the Bi-Centennial Year of 1976, and the first by a Giant pitcher in San Francisco since 1975. A young man who has struggled is whole, albiet short, career has now done what many great ones have never done. Had his third baseman been able to pick up a routine ground ball, he would have joined an elite group who allowed no base runners and pitched a perfect game.

Jonathan Sanchez has joined some of the best that have ever played the game, including the Randy Johnson whom he had replaced. His father was on the steps of the dugout when it was over, one of the first to congratulate him.

"It was awesome," said Jonathan Sanchez, it was a gift for his father. It was the first time he had ever seen him pitch a professional baseball game.


  1. Perfect story to start the week! I know that a no-hitter should have been Sanchez's, but somewhat poetic that he ended with the batter he started with.

  2. Ann,

    Yes! and had Uribe, the klutz, picked up the ball instead of beating it into submission and gift wrapping it for someone's christmas, as they say, he would not have. There is some justice to that...

  3. A great story, well told!

    While you were traveling, you may have missed the saga of Bobby Scales, who the Cubs brought up from the minors for the first time at the age of 31. He had kicked around the minors for years, but his wife told him to stick to his dream. He started off great, making some heroic plays and hitting home runs. But the scouts discovered the pitches he couldn't hit, his batting average headed South, his fielding started to make Ron Santo moan, and he was back on the bus to Iowa.

    His big league career is surely over after about a month. I hope he thinks it was all worth it.

  4. RWP:

    If he has been in the minors that long I am sure he found it exciting, sorry I missed it! Thanks for letting me kind of story.
    The game is a cruel thing at times, a few holes in your swing and they will find them. Maybe that is why it is harder than some think.
    I can just here Ron Santo now!

  5. Great story, Reamus! By the way, I'm RWP; that other guy was Sempringham....

  6. RWP and Semp,

    Well that is what I get for typing while I'm half asleep. Of course Semp would have a Cubbie story!

  7. As Yogi Berra said, and it applies to baseball as well as to blogging, "90% of this game is half mental."