Sanchez, 35, has been in the majors since 2006, when he threw a no-hitter as a rookie for the Marlins. Friday’s effort was not even the first time he had allowed no hits when starting an L.C.S. opener: he also did it in 2013, for Detroit in Boston, but he lasted only six innings. Sanchez threw 116 pitches that night and the Tigers’ bullpen lost the no-hitter in the ninth.
This time, Sanchez nearly took care of things on his own, baffling the Cardinals with an array of off-speed pitches — including one type of changeup his teammates call “the Butterfly” — and a fastball that rarely tops 91 miles an hour. When first baseman Ryan Zimmerman made a diving catch on a liner to start the eighth, Sanchez expected to finish the gem.
“I think that I had it, for sure,” he said, adding that a similar highlight had preserved his no-hitter for the Marlins. “Zimmerman, he caught that ball and I said, ‘O.K., always behind a no-hitter, a good play has to happen.’ And I said, ‘O.K., I had it.’”
Alas, two batters later, Martinez ruined the script by lining a 1-2 changeup to center for a clean hit. But the game was an emphatic illustration of why the Nationals invested in Sanchez even though they already had three top starters.
“When he’s on, he’s carving people up,” Rizzo said. “He’s hitting four quadrants of the strike zone with three or four pitches. He’ll invent a pitch if he has to during the game. His dexterity on the mound, that allows him, with finger pressure, to make different movements on fastballs. I saw him pitch so many times, we knew him intimately. It was a pretty easy choice to go after him when we needed another starter.”
Perhaps veteran starters will command more attention in free agency this winter, after pitchers from last year’s frigid market, like Sanchez, Tampa Bay’s Charlie Morton, Texas’ Lance Lynn and Houston’s Wade Miley, all pitched well on contracts that each totaled $30 million or less.
Rizzo, for his part, knows only that it works for his team, which stood three victories from its first World Series after Sanchez’s magic act.