The most memorable part of Aaron Sanchez’s start last night will be the first seven innings. After carving up Baltimore’s lineup and locating his off-speed pitches as well as we’ve seen from him in any outing since 2016, he took a no hitter into the eighth inning. After the game, he had this to say about his performance:
“I like to think tonight is a preview of what I can be.”
Just reading that quote gives me goosebumps. This was the perfect blend of vintage Aaron Sanchez from the past, and the Aaron Sanchez we’d all love to see going forward. In one amazing night, he not only reminded everybody how good he was before the blister issues, but also showed you that his ceiling is higher than any point he’s reached yet in his career (despite leading the AL in ERA in 2016).
Part of the reason to believe this is obvious. He stuff was straight up nasty in this game. He bamboozled the O’s all night long, and if he can consistently locate his off-speed stuff as well as he did for parts of this one, oh boy is this going to be a fun summer. But pure stuff isn’t the only thing that makes a great pitcher, and Sanchez proved it in the eighth inning when it looked like everything was going to fall apart.
After not allowing a hit for seven innings, Sanchez allowed three of them in a row to open the eighth, including a double from Chance Sisco that not only tied the game, but also put a pair of go ahead runs in scoring position with nobody out. At that moment, Fangraphs’ Win Expectancy gave Baltimore an 85.5 percent chance to escape victorious.
This right here was the key moment of the game. It would have been so easy for Sanchez to crumble. His no hitter was broken up on a play Josh Donaldson could (not should, but could) have made, there was a ground ball for the second hit that was a bit unlucky, his team only managed to score one run for him to that point, the weather was absolutely awful, the Orioles are a team that’s kind of had his number over the years (he’s allowed 12 home runs to them while not allowing more than four to any other team), he was approaching 100 pitches and he really seemed to tire when he got to this point in his first start this season ....... The list goes on and on. Most pitchers in this situation ... Heck, a younger Aaron Sanchez in this situation probably lets all that negative energy snowball into the execution of his next pitch. Somewhere along the lines, it will lead to a mistake, a line drive, a hit, a run, a loss, and a major dose of disappointment.
But Sanchez didn’t let that happen. Instead, just when it looked like the Orioles were going to completely wash away his masterpiece, he gathered his bearings and stonewalled their rally dead in its tracks. First he got Trey Mancini to fly out to Kevin Pillar, and then after intentionally walking Manny Machado to set up a double play, he delivered just that while facing Jonathan Schoop.
This is the type of thing an ace does for his team. It’s not just the peaks and the seemingly uninhabitable pitches we see when they’re on a roll, but it’s also moments like this where the game is on the line and they have to preserve all the work they’ve done that night while they’re running out of gas. That’s what Aaron Sanchez did here, and it might have been the most impressive part of his outing.