Anatomy of a (near) no-no
By Emily @JaysGirlEmily
Blue Jays from Away
Baseball is, on the whole, a very forgiving game. A hitter gets hundreds of chances over a full season. If you strike out in one at-bat, you can make a difference with a home run in the next. But no-hitters? Those aren’t so forgiving. One mistake, and a pitcher goes from having his name written in the record books to being remembered only by his own team’s fans, if at all.
Every year, we see pitchers flirting with history. There have been several such bids already this season, with perhaps the most notable coming just last Sunday from the Japanese phenom Shohei Ohtani. He’d struck out 11 through six innings before the first Athletic reached base.
Blue Jays fans have seen a few recently as well; Marco Estrada has thrown a handful over his three seasons in Toronto, and Aaron Sanchez has had at least two attempts that I can recall. Only one Blue Jay, Dave Stieb - way back in 1990 - has ever completed the job. Stieb had several heartbreakingly close calls over the years, including two consecutive starts where he allowed the first hit with two outs in the 9th.
But we’re not here today to talk about Dave Stieb. We’re here to talk about Aaron Sanchez vs the Baltimore Orioles.
Top 1st: The first few innings are a blur, with confusion caused by an attempted base-steal by Curtis Granderson in the first. First he’s tagged out, then he’s called safe, but sent back to first – apparently interference was called on Justin Smoak’s swing, so the ball is dead, and any subsequent tagging is null and void.
Bottom 1st: The first out of Sanchez’s start is a dramatic one, with Steve Pearce reaching back and over his head to make a catch against Trey Mancini. Sanchez gives him a little clap of appreciation. Neither of them could have known that that out set off the hitless streak which would last seven innings.
Two batters later, Sanchez hits Jonathan Schoop, which is generous (the ball actually hits Schoop’s jersey). Schoop’s then caught in a rundown, the play started and ended by Sanchez himself.
2nd–3rd: I’ll be honest, I’m not the most dialed-in through these innings. I go down to the kitchen to make dinner, and between the food and my roommates talking in the kitchen, I’m not really focused on the game.
What attention I do have is preoccupied with the Blue Jays' inability to get runs. This is nothing new, of course; this year they’ve established themselves as a team that gets off to a slow start. They strand a pair in the second, and a leadoff hit comes to nothing in the third. The good news is, the Orioles have even worse luck, as Sanchez continues to face the minimum.
Top 4th: For the first time, Andrew Cashner sets down the Blue Jays hitters in order.
Bottom 4th: Pillar crashes into the center-field wall as Mancini is robbed again.
Sanchez walks Manny Machado, and a failed double play results in one batter remaining on the bases. I know they don't, but suddenly I find myself frantically double-checking that force outs don't count as hits.
Top 5th: Cashner hits Aledmys Diaz in the elbow – or the ribs, nobody seems able to tell – and walks Josh Donaldson, but strands them both.
Bottom 5th: Sanchez walks Chris Davis with one out. Tim Beckham skies a ball to right field, and Devon Travis races back to retrieve it as the fielders converge. Pearce and Travis stumble over each other, but both return safely to their feet, and the ball miraculously stays in Travis' glove.
Top 6th: Yangervis Solarte hits a leadoff single, but becomes the second half of a strike-‘em-out, throw-‘em-out double play. Futility at its finest.
Speaking of futility, now seems a good time to recall all the pitchers denied a no-hitter because their teammates failed to get them any runs. Rich Hill losing 1-0 in the 10th inning on a walkoff home run to the Pirates last year comes to mind.
At least Sanchez isn’t throwing a perfect game, because an error can’t ruin it (Hill was perfect until Logan Forsythe made an error in the 9th; Forsythe, in turn, was responsible for the infield hit that ended Marco Estrada’s perfect-game bid against the Rays in 2015. I guess Logan Forsythe hates perfect games).
Bottom 6th: Another walk, this one to Pedro Alvarez. Buck Martinez says "That's the third walk Sanchez has allowed, and he's also hit a batter." Then he pauses, as if we're supposed to fill in the blank ourselves.
Mancini hits another hard fly ball, but Pillar is there to reel it in. Machado hits a ground ball to short, and I notice Sanchez hop - with nerves? - before the ball finds Travis' mitt, he fires to Diaz at second, and Diaz throws on to Smoak at first, ending the inning. Two-thirds of the game done, and Buck says "The Orioles are still looking for a hit".
Top 7th: Before the 7th starts, they show Sanchez in the dugout chatting to Pete Walker, among others. I thought pitchers with a no-hit bid weren't supposed to talk to people?
Pillar reaches on a hard liner into left. Three outs later, he's still at first.
Bottom 7th: At this point, my stress is twofold - stress for Sanchez, and stress for the Blue Jays as a whole, who still have to score if Sanchez is going to pull this off. I'm scanning the O's lineup, trying to figure out who's most likely to mess this up. One of the usual suspects, like Machado or Adam Jones? Will Mancini finally make good on the power he's been threatening all game? Will Chris Davis, slumping so far this season, have a breakout at the worst possible time? Or will it be some pesky rando from the bottom of the order, like that time Chris Young broke up Marco Estrada's no-hitter against the Red Sox with a home run?
While I'm asking myself these questions, Sanchez dispatches the first two hitters - Schoop on a swinging strikeout, Jones on a fly ball to center. Buck is complaining about the calls on two borderline pitches to Alvarez, and behind the plate, no doubt Russell Martin is too. With a full count, Alvarez walks. Davis strides to the plate, and I can hear individual fans in the supposed crowd of 8,640 begging him to hit a home run. Then Buck mentions Sanchez's first career start, "here in this very park" and how he allowed two home runs - one to Chris Davis. Davis has hit .348 with four home runs off Sanchez for his career. I'm willing Buck to shut up, just in case Davis remembers and hammers one.
Davis swings and connects with a full-count fastball, and it hangs in the air, heading for center field. The infielders are going out, and Pillar is coming in, and for a second it looks like it will drop between them, but Pillar is coming, he's not worried, he's got this, and he snags the ball.
Top 8th: Sanchez is chatting with Walker again. He slings his coat over one shoulder, grabs a cup of water, and heads down the tunnel. The Orioles have brought a new pitcher in. It's Miguel Castro, and I almost don't recognize him. He's filled out a little since his time with the Jays, and the ends of his dreads are now dyed blond.
Smoak almost gets rung up on a checked swing, but the first-base ump rules in his favour. He walks on the next pitch, and advances on a ball to the backstop while Solarte is at the plate.
Solarte smiles to himself a little after swinging on a pitch far outside, like he's impressed. It's nice to see he's calm enough to laugh on a night like this. I’m not sure I would be. He lines the next one into right field, and Smoak moves to third. But then the right fielder airmails the cutoff man, and the ball takes a wonky bounce over the third base line. Right as I'm thinking it's a shame that Smoak is too slow to take advantage, the Blue Jays' dugout reacts, throwing their arms in the air. The ball has rolled into the dugout, and Smoak gets to go home.
The Blue Jays have a run. The Blue Jays have the lead. Sanchez has some breathing room.
The booth makes the case that Solarte should have gotten two bases on the play, but it doesn't matter. Pearce reaches on an error to the third baseman, and is replaced by Randal Grichuk. During his at-bat, Martin mutters to the umpire about a strike called low on the outside corner. Understandably so. He then flies out, as does Pillar.
Bottom 8th: Damn you, Tim Beckham.
The first pitch of the inning, and Beckham grounds it right through Donaldson's legs into left field. It’s scored a double. The number-seven hitter. I knew it'd be a rando.
The extended cheers are a little nauseating. Buck and Pat argue that it should be ruled an error, but I can't see where Donaldson touched it. Regardless, Anthony Santander hits the next ball into right. Beckham considers going for home, but Grichuk rifles it in and he stays put.
Martin goes out to the mound for an extended visit. No outs, runners at the corners, and I think everybody could use a breather. Chance Sisco ties the game with a double to right, and the Jays use up another mound visit. Craig Gentry gets sawed off, popping one high into center. The runners stay put. Sanchez intentionally walks Machado, and that Hail Mary is answered with a double play. The inning is over, the shutout is over, the no-no is over.
His final line is eight innings, one earned run, three hits, four strikeouts, and five walks (one intentional). I'm sad.
Nobody in the dugout seems to be, though.
Top 9th: If the Blue Jays are going to win, they’d better do it here, considering they’re not on home turf. Baltimore brings in an old foe (with a new mustache), Darren O’Day.
Travis and Diaz get a little over-eager, both grounding out on the first pitch of their at-bats.
I get a little desperate...
Enter a different veteran outfielder to play the hero. One pitch after lining a ball just foul down the right-field line, Granderson hits a no-doubter to right, his first home run of the season. Once again, the Blue Jays have the lead, and this time they’d better hold it.
Bottom 9th: Roberto Osuna enters the game. He makes quick work of Jones, then Alvarez, who puts up more of a fight.
The ump calls a foul tip on a two-strike pitch that Davis’ swing didn’t even approach. The next is a ball in the dirt, but then the pitch after that gets lined directly into Travis’ waiting glove. Ballgame.
Sanchez is credited with a win, although that ‘W’ doesn’t tell the full story.
But just like that, where one historic effort falters, another one succeeds. Osuna becomes the youngest pitcher in MLB history to earn his 100th save.
Ain’t baseball grand?
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