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Big League Stew

Pirates catcher Tony Sanchez makes ‘kamikaze’ catch and flips head-first into Padres dugout

David Brown
Big League Stew

This must be the season that everybody on the Pittsburgh Pirates gets what he wants. Not only did the Bucs take another step toward clinching a playoff spot for the first time in 21 years Thursday afternoon, but catcher Tony Sanchez fulfilled a lifelong wish by making one of the best plays of the Major League Baseball season.

Sanchez made a barely believable catch, despite flipping over into the visitor's dugout and hitting his head, to put an exclamation point on a 10-1 victory against the San Diego Padres that lowered to four Pittsburgh's magic number to qualify for the postseason.

After dropping the first three games of the series and causing some worry, the Pirates road the Gerrit Cole train and a resurgent offense to a big lead in the top of the eighth inning. That's when Sanchez risked injury by refusing to give up on a ball that others might have. He just doesn't have an "off" switch, he says.

"It's in my blood. You see, I'm a catcher. You don't take any plays off," Sanchez told Pirates TV in a postgame interview. "I've waited my entire life to kamikaze into a dugout like that."

Yeah, except those guys weren't supposed to come back from their missions. It's going to be fun what Sanchez tells his poor mom about what happened on Chris Denorfia's pop up.

Quickly tossing his mask away, Sanchez casually shouted "I got it," as if he were about to make a routine play. It was anything but. Sanchez kept track of the ball, which had a downward trajectory that brought him closer and closer to the visitors dugout, which he also kept looking for. Finally out of room, Sanchez reached over the railing and caught the ball before tumbling, head-first, over the side. Sanchez was able to reach out with both hands and do a semi-cartwheel to break his fall, but he ended up hitting his head on concrete steps.

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Sanchez wasn't about to get any help from the Padres players; any of them already in the area had vacated, and nobody else was rushing to prevent another team's catcher from falling. That's another of baseball's unwritten rules. Until he hit the ground, Sanchez was on his own, and he probably was OK with that.

"You see the ball ... you stick your glove out there, your weight just transfers over and you're going, 'Oh, shoot, I'm done.' You know, it's awesome," Sanchez said. "I landed on the ground and the first thing I did was check if the ball was still in my glove and it was."

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Padres catcher Nick Hundley and a couple of others did reach out after the damage had been done. Not that Sanchez could identify any of them.

"I looked at Hundley — him and I have talked a lot since we've been playing the Padres — and I had no idea know who he was," Sanchez said.

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The Pirates might want to check him for a concussion, just in case.

People frequently ask how the Pirates finally broke a streak of losing seasons and are headed to the playoffs (probably) for the first time since 1992. The biggest reason might be their superior defense, and Sanchez provided Exhibit A against the Padres. It's something of a coincidence, and yet it's not one at all, that Mike LaValliere helped Sanchez with plays like that during spring training. LaValliere (and Don Slaught) were the Pirates catchers in '92.

What goes around, comes around. Even if it takes 21 years.

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