Anibal Sánchez's name can officially be added to the still short, but growing list of Nationals postseason heroes.
Put him up there with Juan Soto, who had the go-ahead RBI against the Brewers in the NL Wild Card game, and Howie Kendrick, who hit a grand slam in the 10th inning of Game 5 against the Dodgers on Wednesday to push the Nats to their first NL Championship Series.
Jayson Werth is certainly on there thanks to his walk-off homer in Game 4 of the 2012 NLDS. And Stephen Strasburg has already had a few memorable moments, including his Game 4 start against the Cubs in 2017 and his Game 2 start vs. the Dodgers on Oct. 4.
But Sánchez now owns claim to something that cannot be disputed. He has thrown the best start in Nationals playoff history.
He was surgical on Friday night against a St. Louis Cardinals team that in their previous game put up 10 runs in the first inning alone. He went 7 2/3 shutout innings with only one hit and one walk allowed and two hit batters.
Sanchez didn't allow a single baserunner until the fourth inning and his lone hit was to the very last batter he faced. He was four outs away from just the third no-hitter in MLB postseason history.
Though he fell short of that distinction, he already distinguished himself in D.C. baseball lore. It was the longest start without allowing a run for a Washington pitcher since Earl Whitehill pitched a shutout in the 1933 World Series against the New York Giants. Walter Johnson also went a full nine without giving up a run in the 1924 World Series against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
But that's it, those are the only two pitchers ever to go further in a Washington jersey without giving up a run. Only one other pitcher in franchise history, Ray Burris of the Montreal Expos, threw more shutout innings in a postseason start. He also threw a shutout back in the 1981 NLCS against the Dodgers.
There have been other strong pitching performances by Nats pitchers in October, but nothing qutie like what Sanchez pulled off on Friday night. The candidates for second-best playoff start by a Nats pitcher would be Max Scherzer in Game 4 of this year's NLDS (7 IP, ER), Strasburg in that Game 4 against the Cubs in 2017 (7 IP, 0 ER, 12 SO), Strasburg in Game 1 of that series (7 IP, 2 R, 0 ER, 10 SO) and Doug Fister in Game 3 of the 2014 NLDS against the Giants (7 IP, 0 ER).
But Sánchez clearly has them beat both given the numbers he produced and the fact it was in a deeper round of the playoffs. It also, of course, went way beyond the stats.
The Nationals were desperate to have Sanchez go deep in this game because of the state of their bullpen, which was already a concern before closer Daniel Hudson left the team on the paternity list. With him unavailable, Sánchez's ideal start would include going at least 7 2/3 innings to create a bridge to Sean Doolittle, and that is exactly what he did. The Nats used only two pitchers to escape with a 2-0 victory and only 10 total players because there were no pinch-hitters.
Sánchez stepped up and delivered a gem in the biggest game in Nats history so far. It was the best outing of Sanchez' postseason career, though not by much. He's made a habit of doing this on baseball's biggest stage.
Sánchez also threw seven scoreless frames in Game 2 of the 2012 ALCS when he was with the Tigers. And he took a no-hitter through six innings in Game 1 of the ALCS back in 2013. Scherzer actually started Game 2 of that series and will do the same for the Nats on Saturday.
Sánchez has put together quite the postseason career to this point. While his regular season career ERA sits at a modest 3.98, it plummets to 2.57 in the playoffs. The sample size isn't all that small either, now at 56 innings spanning five different postseasons.
Considering that, one could make the argument the Nats have a Big Four and not just a Big Three when it comes to the playoffs. Sanchez is often overshadowed by Scherzer, Strasburg and Patrick Corbin, but his October results speak for themselves.
Sánchez is now through 12.2 innings this postseason with the Nats having only allowed one run. That should make them feel very good about having him pitch again in this series, which has him lined up to throw Game 5.
The Nats are now up 1-0 on the Cardinals, three wins away from a World Series berth. And they have their rotation lined up to be Scherzer in Game 2, Strasburg in Game 3 and Corbin in Game 4. If necessary, Sánchez would throw Game 5, Scherzer would take Game 6 and Strasburg would be ready for a Game 7.
That doesn't sound good for St. Louis.
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