Sánchez delivers clutch HR off old friend: 'I kind of surprised myself'

Both Brewers catchers shine as Contreras adds homer, continues 'impressive' run

April 25th, 2024

PITTSBURGH -- One of the biggest points of pride for the Brewers this season has been that no matter how the game has been going, they have consistently been able to find ways to put the winning run at the plate.

In the eighth inning of Thursday’s series finale vs. the Pirates at PNC Park, it was . And for the second time this series, he crushed a much-needed homer, sending the Brewers to a 7-5 win that split their set with Pittsburgh at 2 games apiece.

Sánchez faced Aroldis Chapman, his former longtime teammate with the Yankees, for the first time on Monday night, when he drew a four-pitch walk. Things got off to a much different pace on Thursday, when Sánchez quickly fell into an 0-2 hole. He fouled off a 103 mph four-seamer, then connected with a 101.9 mph sinker running away from him and out of the zone to the opposite field.

The homer traveled a Statcast-projected 371 feet over the Clemente Wall, and it’s the fastest pitch a Brewer has taken deep in the pitch-tracking era, per Statcast. Sánchez also became the first Brewer to hit a homer off Chapman since Jonathan Lucroy slugged a walk-off homer against him on Aug. 16, 2013.

“He was throwing hard as he always does, so I was just trying to load a little bit earlier,” Sánchez said through assistant coach Daniel de Mondesert. “And to be honest, I kind of surprised myself when I made contact there. It was a good pitch. I was just happy I made it to it.”

Though the location was good for a fastball with that type of horizontal movement at that velocity, Chapman had thrown four fastballs in a row, including three to Sánchez before he turned on the final offering.

“I think he just took a really good at-bat and just made a really good connection with the ball there,” Chapman said through interpreter Stephen Morales. “It happens, you know. He had a really good at-bat."

Freddy Peralta noticed the lift it gave the Brewers beyond the box score. He had just completed a start that he admitted featured some of his worst command, as he walked five batters and allowed five runs in 4 2/3 innings. But when he saw Sánchez on deck vs. a lefty, he knew something good could be coming soon.

“It was a great decision to put him in the game in that moment against Chapman,” Peralta said. “He’s not easy to get even a hit against him, and he hit a homer and gave us the lead. That’s huge, and everything changed after that. And you could tell everybody’s faces changed after that.”

The Brewers’ battery proved to be the most fearsome duo of the series in different capacities. While Sánchez provided his power off the bench, , the starting catcher on Thursday, has consistently been a threat over the past two wins. In his first at-bat, he crushed the fourth-longest home run of his career, projected by Statcast at 448 feet, and his walk in the third and single in the fifth set him up to score three of Milwaukee’s seven runs in the game.

“He’s coming into his own,” said Brewers manager Pat Murphy. “He’s still a very, very young player, but he’s coming into his own. This is impressive.”

Because of how impressive Contreras has been, Sánchez has not gotten nearly as many opportunities to start as he did earlier in his career while he was catching Chapman. Sánchez also had an abbreviated Spring Training, and with the Brewers’ odd lack of lefty starters opposing them -- they’ve faced only three this season, and one was to begin a bullpen game -- Sánchez hasn’t had much of a case to earn more starts.

However, he’s earned a lot of trust and appreciation, as three of the first seven hits he’s provided for the Brewers have been homers. His second came on Tuesday night, when he came off the bench to clock a solo homer to left field and chase breakout starter Bailey Falter from the game and give the Crew late life.

Sánchez’s manager gave the Brewers’ front office high praise for signing the 31-year-old veteran catcher, and what that experience has provided is not lost on him.

“It was tremendous. Tremendous,” Murphy said. “He’s a veteran hitter, and he’s given us a big lift doing that.”