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Giants' Sanchez fires first no-no of '09

Sanchez fires first no-no of '09

SAN FRANCISCO -- Jonathan Sanchez approached his outing Friday night realistically. After all, he had emerged from a demotion to the bullpen to make his first start since June 22.

"I didn't think I was going to be out there very long," Sanchez said.

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He lasted just long enough to make history.

Merging improbable circumstances with impressive pitching, Sanchez recorded the first no-hitter of the 2009 season in the Giants' 8-0 victory Friday night over the Padres.

Only a one-out fielding error in the eighth inning by third baseman Juan Uribe separated Sanchez from a perfect game. "It's [part of] the game," Sanchez said. "It can happen."

Coincidentally, left-hander Randy Johnson, who threw the last perfect game in the Major Leagues on May 18, 2004, was on hand in the Giants' dugout. And it was Johnson's strained throwing shoulder, which forced him onto the disabled list, that prompted the Giants to return Sanchez to the starting rotation.

"He was locked in today," Johnson said of Sanchez. "It was a lot of fun to watch."

For Sanchez's backers -- including his father, Sigfredo, who was visiting from Lajas, Puerto Rico -- it became nerve-racking with one out in the ninth inning as center fielder Aaron Rowand saved Sanchez's gem with a leaping catch at the wall of Edgar Gonzalez's drive. It was Rowand's first game since Wednesday, when he ran into the left-center-field barrier after making a spectacular running catch to rob Florida's Wes Helms.

"It was close to going over," Rowand said. "I haven't seen the replay. It had to be at the top of the fence."

With the paid crowd of 30,298 at AT&T Park standing and roaring, Sanchez ended the two-hour, 22-minute classic by retiring Everth Cabrera on a called third strike -- a 2-2 curveball, giving Sanchez a career-high 11 strikeouts. Cabrera plainly disagreed with umpire Brian Runge, but it didn't matter.

Meanwhile, Sanchez and catcher Eli Whiteside locked each other in a bear hug as the rest of the Giants sped toward them as if magnetized and celebrated together in a happy scrum. The 6-foot-10 Johnson was especially noticeable as he loped toward the group, last but not least.

Sanchez insisted that he didn't dwell on the possibility of throwing a no-hitter until he prepared to fling that final strike. "I was just pitching," he said.

There have been six previous no-hitters since 1900 that would have otherwise been perfect games if not for an error:
Date
Pitcher
Teams
8/15/90
Terry Mulholland
For Phillies vs. Giants*
6/27/80
Jerry Reuss
For Dodgers vs. Giants
7/19/74
Dick Bosman
For Indians vs. A's
9/3/47
Bill McCahan
For A's vs. Senators
7/1/20
Walter Johnson
For Senators vs. Red Sox
6/13/05
Christy Mathewson
For Giants vs. Cubs**
* Charlie Hayes made an error on the first batter of the seventh inning, who was then wiped out on a double play. Mulholland faced the minimum.

** Two errors

By just pitching, Sanchez threw the first no-hitter since AT&T Park opened in 2000. It also was the 13th no-hitter in Giants history and the fifth since the franchise moved west in 1958. The last Giant to record a no-hitter was John "The Count" Montefusco, who achieved the feat at Atlanta in a 9-0 victory on Sept. 29, 1976. No Giants pitcher had thrown a no-hitter at home since Ed Halicki stymied the New York Mets 6-0 on Aug. 24, 1975, at Candlestick Park.

Unlike reigning National League Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum, who no-hit the Padres for six innings on Thursday, Sanchez (3-8) might have seemed like an unlikely candidate to make history, given his inconsistency. Only once in his 13 previous starts did he pitch more than six innings. He lost four consecutive starts in June and compiled a 7.45 ERA in that span, prompting his demotion from the rotation. He entered the game with 46 walks in only 69 2/3 innings.

But the 26-year-old left-hander morphed from erratic to efficient against the Padres.

Sanchez actually has been the subject of trade rumors recently. If he were to be traded now, he'd be only the third pitcher since 1900 to throw a no-hitter and then end up on a different MLB club that same season. Cliff Chambers threw a no-hitter on May 6, 1951, for the Pirates and was traded to the Cardinals on June 15. And Hall of Famer Rube Marquard tossed a no-no for the Giants on April 15, 1915, and was selected off waivers by the Brooklyn Robins on August 31.

Going to the bullpen enabled Sanchez to work more intensively on altering his motion and refining his offspeed deliveries with pitching coach Dave Righetti. Sanchez explained that he was moving too quickly on his release, which caused his arm to drag behind. So he slightly lowered his body and his leg kick, which improved his fastball.

Result: Sanchez threw 77 strikes in 110 pitches against San Diego, displaying the mixture of command and stuff he had flashed intermittently while compiling the career 15-26 record and 5.26 ERA he took into this start.

"He's always had the equipment," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said.

Jonathan Sanchez's no-hitter was the 11th since 1900 in which the pitcher struck out 10 or more and didn't walk a batter:
Date
Pitcher
K's
 Score
5/18/2004
Randy Johnson
  13
D-backs 2, Braves 0
7/18/1999
David Cone
  10
Yankees 6, Expos 0
5/17/1998
David Wells
  11
Yankees 4, Twins 0
9/30/1984
Mike Witt
  10
Angels 1, Rangers 0
5/15/1981
Len Barker
  11
Indians 3, Blue Jays 0
7/20/1970
Bill Singer
  10
Dodgers 5, Phillies 0
 5/8/1968
Catfish Hunter
  11
A's 4, Twins 0
  9/9/1965
Sandy Koufax
  14
Dodgers 1, Cubs 0
6/21/1964
Jim Bunning
  10
Philies 6, Mets 0
  7/1/1920
Walter Johnson
  10
Nationals 1, Red Sox 0

Many no-hitters require luck or defensive gems for preservation. But the Padres, who entered the game ranked last in the National League in hitting and scoring, barely tested Sanchez -- with the notable exception of Adrian Gonzalez, their best hitter.

Gonzalez drove an opposite-field fly ball to the warning track in left leading off the second inning. He did the same thing with a 3-1 pitch to open the eighth inning, except this time the trajectory appeared more suggestive of a home run. But John Bowker caught the ball a step or two in front of the wall.

The rest of the eighth inning was adventuresome for Sanchez. The next batter, Chase Headley, hit a tricky grounder that Uribe, who moved over from second one inning earlier, tried to field on a short hop. The ball caromed off Uribe's chest and eluded him again as he hastily fumbled for the ball, enabling Headley to reach first base safely. The official scorer quickly ruled the play an error.

"That's in the past," Sanchez said, insisting that his concentration wasn't disrupted. "You have to keep pitching and forget about that."

Sanchez then fired a wild pitch on his first delivery to pinch-hitter Craig Stansberry before running the count to 3-1, his second three-ball count of the inning. But Stansberry rescued Sanchez by popping up to short right-center field. Eliezer Alfonzo, the ex-Giants catcher, ended the inning by striking out.

Offensive support for Sanchez wasn't an issue. The Giants, who climbed a season-high 10 games over .500 (48-38), jumped ahead with four runs in the second inning off Padres starter Josh Banks (1-1). Travis Ishikawa's leadoff triple and Rowand's two-run single highlighted that uprising. Pablo Sandoval prompted a curtain call with his 14th homer of the season in the fifth inning, good for three runs. San Francisco added a superfluous run in the eighth.

Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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