It wasn't simply Sanchez's loss on Saturday that vexed the Giants -- it was the manner in which he lost, as well. Twice, Sanchez walked free-swinging eighth hitter Bengie Molina, the first of those free passes leading to Mitch Moreland's crippling three-run homer in the second. Sanchez also walked the even more notoriously free-swinging Vladimir Guerrero, which led to his immediate departure.
In sum, only about half of Sanchez's pitches zoomed through the strike zone -- if zoomed is even the proper word. Sanchez, whose fastball averaged nearly 91 mph this season, did not break 90 mph after the first inning Saturday. By the fifth, he was all but avoiding the pitch, throwing a higher percentage of breaking balls than fastballs.
It is possible that Sanchez may be fatigued. He has, after all, now thrown 212 2/3 innings this season, nearly 60 more than his previous career high set last season.
"You know, that's hard to answer," manager Bruce Bochy said. "He's had some time off between starts, plenty of rest. But these guys have logged some work, some innings, and whether that's caught up with them or not, I can't answer that."
Certainly, if not for Sanchez, the Giants never would have made the playoffs in the first place. But they may have leaned on him one too many times.
"He's still got some life on the heater," catcher Buster Posey said. "It is October 30. It's been a long season. But he's going out and battling, that's all you can ask."
In the estimation of both Posey and Sanchez, the pitch that doomed him -- an 89-mph fastball on the ninth pitch of Moreland's at-bat -- wasn't all that bad of a pitch. Posey, after calling for four straight breaking balls, set up inside to receive a fastball. And Sanchez popped it directly toward the intended target.
But Moreland promptly crushed it.
"I knew I had a runner in scoring position, so he was going to try to pitch me tough," Moreland said. "I fouled off some offspeed stuff and just tried to battle back, and I got the fastball. I think it was kind of down and in, and I was able to put a good swing on it."
Moments earlier, Sanchez issued the first of his three walks, a two-out freebie to Molina with a runner on second. Given his previous successes against left-handed batters -- opposing lefties hit just .181 against him this season -- Sanchez figured he could pitch carefully to Molina, content to try his luck with the lefty Moreland.
"But I don't think it was a blatant unintentional intentional walk," Posey said.
Whatever it was, it led to the game's biggest blow. Had Sanchez been able to dial his 2-2 fastball to Moreland up into the low-90s, the rookie first baseman may have swung and missed, fouled it back, popped it up -- anything, really. But Sanchez's pitch came in at 89 mph instead, flying out of Rangers Ballpark even more quickly.
Sanchez later served up a solo homer to Josh Hamilton in the fifth, marking just the second time all season he's allowed multiple home runs to left-handers in the same game.
"It wasn't his best start," Posey said. "He battled. That's all you can ask of him."
But if it comes to Game 7, the Giants may need to ask for a little something more.