Perhaps there will be a day when the no-hitter is viewed as the moment that launched a career, when great promise fell into the arms of better stuff and lived happily ever after, or long enough to win a regular place in a rotation and earn a decent sum of money.
But, for now, Jonathan Sanchez's(notes) no-no Friday night is the thunderclap from a cloudless sky, something close to perfection from a young lefty who in his career as a starter had an ERA of more than 5.00 and had lost twice as many games (24) as he had won (12).
Think Bud Smith by the Bay. Jose Jimenez from the left side.
You could even argue he would be the fifth San Francisco Giants pitcher most likely to throw the franchise's 13th no-hitter, behind Randy Johnson(notes) (who's had two, one of them a perfect game), Tim Lincecum(notes) (who came close just the night before), Matt Cain(notes) (who is a no-hitter waiting to happen) and Barry Zito(notes) (who with a $126 million contract ought to be throwing no-hitters).
Sanchez only started because Johnson, who has a sore shoulder, couldn't, which is lucky enough. Then he drew the San Diego Padres, which is even luckier. Every night, manager Bud Black presents the worst lineup in baseball, one further deadened Thursday night by Lincecum, and the Padres have turned this sort of ignominy into habit. Of the 13 no-hitters thrown since May 2001, three have been against the Padres. They have been no-hit seven times overall.
And don't forget to throw in the backup catcher – Eli Whiteside(notes), who had caught 115 2/3 big league innings – stepping in for Bengie Molina(notes), whose wife went into labor earlier in the day.
Events collide. A pitcher comes to the mound with something to prove, looking for a way out of the bullpen. A hard, three-quarter fastball meets a biting slider, and together they find the strike zone. A father stands nearby, a cell phone in his hand, screaming that something great is happening. He hadn't yet seen his boy pitch in the majors, having flown in from Puerto Rico for this particular game. And yet there was Jonathan, flipping that curveball past a frozen Everth Cabrera(notes) with two outs in the ninth, and everybody at China Basin hugging, the place going nuts.
Plenty of pitchers have tried, and few have jumped so joyfully into their catcher's arms at the end, and then into their teammates', and then into their father's.
"This is a gift for him," Sanchez said of his father, Sigfredo. "I feel awesome."
Sanchez, who lugs the usual maladies of a young, hard-throwing left-hander – non-repeating mechanics, wildness, walks – had 11 strikeouts and no walks in the 8-0 victory over the Padres. He threw 110 pitches, 77 for strikes. Under intense pressure, he stood in at the end and found his release point, pitch after pitch, and had the game of his life.
He'd arrived with a 2-8 record, never having thrown as much as a complete game. He was an emergency starter, a possible trade piece the Giants hoped might bring a bat for their lagging offense.
But then he had that fastball that touched 95 mph, and that slider that went where it was supposed to go. Padres hitters swung late on the fastball and over the top of that slider. Kevin Kouzmanoff(notes) struck out on a slider that hit him in the shin. And as the Padres ran out of outs, a couple balls died on the warning track, one in center fielder's Aaron Rowand's(notes) glove as he crashed into the fence.
By then, Sanchez, the best he could, had made his point.
"I want to be a starter," said Sanchez, who'd lost that privilege 2½ weeks ago. "They gave me a chance and you see what happened tonight. I hope everything goes the right way now."
The night was his, and because of it there will be more. Maybe, in his fourth season, it's a beginning. Because, you know, a guy can get all the luck in the world, but he still has to stand out there and hold the ball. He still has to reach the end, a pitch away, and then finish it.
"I threw the pitch," Sanchez said, "and I got it."