Washington Nationals

Anibal Sanchez’s near no-hitter put the Nationals up in the NLCS

Anibal Sanchez came up four outs short of his second career no-hitter but still led the Nationals to a 2-0 win over the Cardinals in Game 1 of the NLCS

Anibal Sanchez, four outs away from baseball immortality, had to settle for putting the Washington Nationals three wins away from the franchise’s first trip to the World Series.

The Nationals defeated the St. Louis Cardinals 2-0 in Game 1 of the NLCS at Busch Stadium on Friday behind a one-hit shutout from Sanchez and closer Sean Doolittle. Sanchez had his no-hit bid broken up with two outs in the eighth inning by a single on a 3-2 pitch from pinch-hitter Jose Martinez.

The 35-year-old Sanchez is usually the odd man out when the Nationals rotation is talked out, overshadowed by teammates Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin. But on Friday, with each of those three unavailable, it was Sanchez who took the mound for the franchise’s first NLCS game since they moved to the nation’s capital. He responded with a nearly-historic performance.

Six years ago, while pitching for the Detroit Tigers, Sanchez didn’t give up a hit in Game 1 of the ALCS against the Boston Red Sox. He was taken out of that game after six innings with 116 pitches, and the no-hitter would eventually be broken up with one out in the ninth. But Sanchez cruised through the Cardinals lineup this time around, getting 13 fly ball outs and five strikeouts, needing only 103 pitches to go 7.2 innings. He also walked one and hit two batters.

Taking the mound for the bottom of the eighth, Sanchez’s run at history was nearly brought to an abrupt halt. Tommy Edman hit a hard drive to first but Ryan Zimmerman was able to stretch out and make a diving catch for the first out of the inning.

He then retired Paul DeJong on a fly ball to center. That brought up Martinez, like Sanchez a native of Venezuela, to pinch-hit in the pitcher’s spot. Martinez worked a 3-2 count before hitting a hanging splitter that landed just in front of Michael A. Taylor in center for the Cardinals first hit of the game.

Sanchez was removed from the game by manager Dave Martinez after giving up the hit. Doolittle came out of the bullpen to record a four-out save as the Nationals took a 1-0 series lead with Game 2 on Saturday at 4:08 EST.

It’s the deepest any team has gone with a no-hit bid in the postseason since Sanchez’s start in the ALCS. The Cardinals were held without a hit for 7.2 innings for the third time in their postseason franchise history, and the first since Boston’s Jim Lonborg in the 1967 World Series. A no-hitter hasn’t been thrown in St. Louis since Bob Forsch did it for the Cardinals in 1983. No opposing pitcher has done it against the Cardinals in St. Louis for 113 years, since Mal Eason of the Brooklyn Superbas in 1906.

The Nationals opened the scoring in the second inning when Anthony Rendon’s line drive caught a piece of the foul line in left field for a double. He later scored on a double to the left-center gap by catcher Yan Gomes, who had been 1-12 dating back to the final two games of the regular season. Washington added another run in the seventh after Adam Eaton tripled and came home on NLDS-hero Howie Kendrick’s single.

Sanchez pitched a no-hitter in 2006 for the Florida Marlins when he was a 22-year-old rookie making his 13th career start. Now a 35-year-old veteran, he came up just short this time but managed to put the Nationals in a good spot going forward in the series as the franchise chases its first World Series berth. And with Scherzer, Strasburg and Corbin taking the mound for the next three games, fans in the nation’s capital must be liking their chances right now.

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