"It's great to have a late surge like that," said Giants left-hander Barry Zito, who yielded all of Washington's runs in 6 1/3 innings. "That's what wins divisions. That kind of tenacity will carry you through the season when it becomes a grind."
Baseball has been a grind throughout much of the past year for Sanchez, who has endured shoulder and left knee injuries since the Giants acquired him before the Trade Deadline last season, and the 2006 National League batting champion is still striving to regain his form.
"Obviously, I'm not where I want to be," said Sanchez, who's hitting .250 in eight games since being activated. "I'm just trying to battle on every pitch. ... Hopefully this is the game that will get me more consistent, to where I feel more comfortable at the plate."
Thursday's decisive confrontation was relatively brief. It was set up by the kind of break that has eluded the Giants, as Washington first baseman Adam Dunn mishandled John Bowker's grounder for an inning-opening error with right-hander Craig Stammen protecting a 4-2 Nationals lead in the seventh. Bowker advanced to third on a passed ball and a groundout before scoring on pinch-hitter Nate Schierholtz's single off reliever Sean Burnett (0-2), who then yielded Andres Torres' bloop double.
Facing ex-Giants reliever Tyler Walker, Sanchez ripped a 2-0 pitch through the infield's left side.
"Those are the situations you want to be in as a player," said Sanchez. "It was nice to be able to help today."
Said Walker, "When you get behind in the count, you have to hit more of the plate. The ball went toward the middle of the plate. It was a poor pitch on my part. He made me pay for it."
Though Sanchez received a fastball, it wasn't as predictable as one might think. On Tuesday night, Walker threw a variety of deliveries to Sanchez, who fouled off seven 1-2 pitches before striking out with runners on second and third and one out.
"We needed somebody to pick us up, and he certainly did today," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said.
Sanchez also raised the Giants' game defensively. He participated in two double plays and deftly grabbed Stammen's tricky smash that grazed the pitcher's mound to end the sixth inning.
Zito said that Sanchez's hitting "kind of overshadowed all the defense that he provided for us. He's a spark for this lineup."
For good measure, Sanchez demonstrated some old-fashioned toughness in the second inning, when Justin Maxwell slid headfirst as he stole second base and accidentally kicked Sanchez on his jaw. Sanchez had no intention of leaving the game.
"We expected him to add some degree of intensity," Zito said. "He's very focused."
The Giants needed more than just Sanchez to improve to 13-2 against Washington since 2008.
Dunn, who homered in the first inning, barely missed another one in the seventh when he launched a drive that caromed off the cement molding atop the right-field wall and back into fair territory. Dunn stopped at second base, but Washington manager Jim Riggleman questioned the ruling, prompting the umpiring crew to study video replays. The ruling stood, denying Dunn a two-run homer that would have put Washington ahead 5-2.
"I felt like we needed this game," Bochy said. "We had a tough game last night [featuring Tim Lincecum's struggles]. To bounce back and come from behind is big for the confidence of the club."