MINNEAPOLIS -- Aníbal Sánchez pondered the question: Could he see the positives in another strong outing, or will he focus on the one pitch that sunk his Tuesday start?
Knowing Washington’s recent slide and its tenuous hold on a National League Wild Card spot, the Nationals' right-hander could appreciate his latest turn in the rotation. But Sánchez also knows one mislocated pitch ultimately cost him and his team.
Sánchez bounced back with seven strong innings, but he allowed a two-run homer to Mitch Garver in the seventh as Washington lost, 5-0, to the Twins in the opener of a three-game series at Target Field.
“I know it's going to happen,” Sánchez said. “One of those two teams has to win. One of those pitchers has to make a mistake. I did, and I paid for it. But in that situation, it's really hard to think how good I [threw] the first six innings, or even that I finished the seventh inning strong. But one pitch, and everything.”
Sánchez (8-8) was coming off his worst outing of the season, allowing a season-high seven runs over five innings in a loss to the Mets last week, but he allowed just two runs on four hits and a walk on Tuesday. Sánchez struck out five batters and carried a no-hitter into the fifth inning.
The Interleague battle between two teams in playoff position was a show of pitching as Minnesota All-Star José Berríos matched Sánchez, carrying a perfect game into the fifth before Howie Kendrick's one-out single. Trea Turner singled in the sixth, which marked the Nationals' only other hit on the night -- and after Berrios yielded to a pair of relievers following his seven innings, Washington was shut out for the seventh time this season and has now lost six of its past eight games.
The Nationals remain the leading Wild Card team in the NL, residing 2 1/2 games ahead of Chicago, which lost in San Diego in 10 innings Tuesday night.
The close game got away late after Minnesota scored three runs off Tanner Rainey in the eighth, adding to the struggles of Washington’s bullpen. The Nationals entered the day with the second-worst bullpen ERA this season at 5.78.
"Not executing pitches, falling behind in counts, making too many pitches that are where they can hit them,” Rainey said. “The ones I did throw over the plate were very hittable pitches. There's no quality strikes to them."
Sánchez was 0-6 with a 5.10 ERA before going on the injured list in May with a left hamstring strain. He returned on May 29, and has gone 8-2 with a 3.61 ERA in his past 18 starts.
Against the Twins, who are tied with the Yankees for a record total of 276 homers this season, Sánchez cruised through the first five innings. He didn’t allow a baserunner until walking Jonathan Schoop with two outs in the third. Willians Astudillo singled with two outs in the fifth for the first hit.
Sánchez escaped a one-out double in the sixth, but he couldn’t do the same an inning later.
Eddie Rosario doubled to start the seventh, and Garver followed with his 30th home run to the second deck in left field. Sánchez retired the next three batters to finish his night.
"He was really good, really, really good today,” manager Dave Martinez said of Sánchez. “He just threw one ball up, and it got him."