Globe iconLogin iconRecap iconSearch iconTickets icon
news

MLB News

Sanchez shines in Blue Jays' walk-off victory

Smoak homers to force extras, hits game-winning single in 10th
@baseballexis
July 24, 2019

TORONTO -- Exactly five years ago, Aaron Sanchez took the mound at Rogers Centre for the first time in his big league career. There was an air of potential and excitement that surrounded the highly touted prospect, and in his debut, he delivered two hitless innings with two strikeouts. Between

TORONTO -- Exactly five years ago, Aaron Sanchez took the mound at Rogers Centre for the first time in his big league career. There was an air of potential and excitement that surrounded the highly touted prospect, and in his debut, he delivered two hitless innings with two strikeouts.

Between then and now -- now being the 27-year-old right-hander’s impressive outing in the Blue Jays' 2-1 extra-inning walk-off win over the Indians on Tuesday night -- Sanchez has experienced a number of ups and downs. And none more frustrating than early on in this, his sixth season, making his recent successes all the more encouraging.

Box score

“You’ve got to go out there and compete, regardless of how you feel or what you’ve got, and it showed this year,” Sanchez said. “Obviously there have been games where I’ve been down, there have been games I’ve been up, and a lot of the time it depends on how I feel.

“But I’m not going to use that as an excuse to what’s going on. I chose to take the ball, and I’ll live with what happens. But the fact that I’m feeling better more and more, each and every start probably for the last five or six starts now, I’m pleased to be where I’m at.”

Before his stellar five-frame performance, in which he allowed one run on five hits with no walks and six strikeouts, Sanchez had lost 13 straight decisions and was winless over his last 15 starts. Thanks to some late-inning heroics from Justin Smoak to end the game in Toronto’s favour, Sanchez received a no-decision on Tuesday, and he avoided becoming the first pitcher to lose 11 consecutive starts in a single season since Roger Craig lost 12 straight in 1963.

“He’s been like that ever since I’ve played with him,” Sanchez said of Smoak. “Always time and time again, coming up clutch in big situations. And what bigger night tonight [than] to hit one to tie it, and then the base hit right there to win it. Just a great team win, really. Even after me, the bullpen came in and shut the door.”

Smoak ultimately changed the fate of the matchup against the Indians in the 10th inning, when he singled with runners on the corners and two outs to bring the winning run home and seal the victory. But the first baseman only had the opportunity to do so after tying the game up with his 17th home run of the season in the ninth off Cleveland closer Brad Hand.

“He’s another guy that I’m happy he’s getting hot again, because he’s better than what his average shows,” Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo said. “He’s comfortable. He looks forward to that. It was big, of course, the home run against one of the best closers in baseball and then the base hit there at the end.”

Even with the win, Sanchez deserved better on Tuesday, the only run against him scoring on a ball that snuck past second base and into the outfield. The Blue Jays also faltered when they got what seemed like their only chance to score against a seemingly unstoppable Trevor Bauer in the eighth, on a play that saw Teoscar Hernández thrown out at the plate with one out.

But the tide seems to have turned of late for Sanchez, offering a glimmer of hope that maybe the California native’s latest outing is a sign of things to come, and perhaps bringing back that air of potential for the hurler who led the American League in ERA as an All-Star in 2016.

“It doesn’t help that he was an All-Star young and he had a really good ERA that year, so there are definitely expectations,” Smoak said. “It’s something that everybody wants. For him, honestly, not pitching for a year-and-a-half, almost two years, it’s going to take time to get back into the everyday grind of his routine or whatever he has to do. But, honestly, over his last few starts, he’s definitely been a lot better, and hopefully he can continue to do that.”

The start was reminiscent of the Sanchez of old for the man behind the plate on Tuesday.

“He looked like his old self today,” catcher Luke Maile said. “I was really happy for him. Pretty much from the first pitch he threw in the bullpen, it was a familiar face I saw out there. And it’s refreshing to see that, because he’s been battling. He’s been working his [tail] off -- there’s no other way to say it -- trying to get back to the level he was. And tonight he was.”

Encouraged by his recent starts, this was the best of the bunch for Sanchez, despite getting the hook from Montoyo after only 80 pitches. In not issuing a free pass, Sanchez ended his streak of games with at least one walk at 60, tied with Brandon Morrow for the longest string in franchise history. It also marked his first start without a base on balls in 1,100 days.

“Rome wasn’t built in a day,” Sanchez said. “Patience is a virtue, and it sucks that for me I was at the top of the game and now I’m at the bottom. And it just makes the story that much greater in the end.”

Alexis Brudnicki is a reporter/editor for MLB.com based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter @baseballexis.