Marlins rookie Sanchez tosses baseball's first no-hitter since 2004

Updated: September 7, 2006, 5:48 PM ET
Associated Press

MIAMI -- The game began on a damp, typically dreary night at the Florida Marlins' ballpark, with a couple of thousand fans in the stands, reaffirming that the city has yet to embrace its young, overachieving, playoff-chasing team.

By the ninth inning, the crowd was on its feet, roaring for the Marlins' latest rookie sensation, Anibal Sanchez.

Even South Florida gets excited about a no-hitter.

Sanchez threw the first one in 2½ years, the longest such drought in the major league history, to help Florida beat the Arizona Diamondbacks 2-0 Wednesday.

Luckily for Sanchez, no-hitters thrown in mostly empty stadiums still count. The announced crowd was 12,561, but even with late arrivals, the actual turnout was perhaps half that for a team that ranks last in the major leagues in attendance.

"I know not a lot of people are coming here," Sanchez said Thursday. "I would like it if more people came because that helps the team."

"No-Hitter Night" apparently needed more advance promotion. The atmosphere was so subdued that Marlins ace Dontrelle Willis, watching from the dugout, didn't realize Arizona was hitless until teammates charged the field after the final out.

Sanchez was mobbed near the mound, then pointed and thrust his fists to the stands, where his wife was easy to spot amid the many vacant seats.

Popular with his teammates, Sanchez showed endearing grace as he savored his night in the spotlight. He wept on the field, happily took a pie in the face from a teammate during a TV interview and beamed throughout a 10-minute news conference.

The smile widened when he was asked about his tears on the field.

"I cried because I was excited," he said. "That's the best moment of my life."

He celebrated until nearly 4 a.m. at the home of teammate and fellow Venezuelan Miguel Cabrera, watching highlights of the game on TV.

The son of a truck driver, Sanchez is a teetotaler and devoted husband. His progress through the minor leagues was slowed by Tommy John surgery in 2003, and until Wednesday night he wasn't well known even in Venezuela.

Florida acquired him last November in the deal that sent Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell to the Boston Red Sox. He went 3-6 this season for Double-A Carolina before joining the Marlins, and in June he became the second starting pitcher in 10 seasons to win his major league debut as a visitor at Yankee Stadium.

One of four rookies in the Marlins' rotation, he has made 13 starts and is 7-2 with a 2.89 ERA.

"He has been tested as tough as a test can be, and has come through with flying colors," manager Joe Girardi said. "To have your first start at Yankee Stadium, that's a test. And then to watch him accomplish things has been remarkable. He has a great work ethic and a love for the game. You watch him and how the other players embrace him, and you can get a sense of what kind of guy he is."

Those teammates helped Sanchez with some nifty glove work. Left fielder Josh Willingham made a diving catch, and shortstop Hanley Ramirez ranged left for a grounder and whirled to make the throw from behind second base. Dan Uggla, Mike Jacobs and Ramirez combined on a rare 4-3-6 double play to end the eighth inning.

All three gems were produced by rookies -- no surprise, because the Marlins have played 21 this year.

Girardi, who caught Dwight Gooden's no-hitter and David Cone's perfect game, cringed when the Marlins violated the custom of shunning a pitcher throwing a no-hitter by talking to Sanchez on the bench.

"I don't think our guys are old enough to realize that superstition yet," Girardi said.

"If more people talked," Willingham said, "there would be more no-hitters."

Regardless, Sanchez's luck held throughout. Arizona nearly broke up the no-hitter in the fifth, when Carlos Quentin hit a sharp grounder down the line. Third baseman Cabrera made a backhanded stop on one knee, then rose and threw wide, pulling first baseman Jacobs off the bag.

Without hesitation, official scorer Ron Jernick ruled the play an error. Cabrera said he didn't look at the scoreboard to check the ruling because he feared it would be a hit.

"Bad throw, bad throw, bad throw, man," Cabrera said with a grin.

The no-hitter was the first since Arizona's Randy Johnson threw a perfect game to beat Atlanta 2-0 on May 18, 2004, and it's the latest highlight in an improbable season for the Marlins.

With baseball's youngest team and lowest payroll, they started the season 11-31. But they surged into playoff contention and became the first club in major league history to climb above .500 after being 20 games under.

Sanchez's no-hitter was the Marlins' 14th win in 17 games, and they remained three games behind NL wild-card leader San Diego.

"What made this game interesting was there's a lot to winning it," Girardi said. "The no-hitter is obviously really important in Anibal's career, but the win was also important for this club."

For a franchise long plagued with fan apathy, however, there's no evidence of playoff fever at the box office. The Marlins averaged 12,663 fans for their three-game series against Arizona, slightly below their season average of 13,428.

"We still have a job to do, whether there's 50,000 or 10,000," Girardi said. "The players can only do what they can do. And the more we win, the more attractive we are to people."

Team president David Samson said he hopes for bigger crowds down the stretch, as happened during the Marlins' run to the World Series title in 2003. Maybe the no-hitter will get fans coming to the ballpark.

Or perhaps it will take a perfect game or two.


Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press

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