By Rob Rains
On any other night, against anybody other than his team, nobody would have been rooting harder than Jose Martinez for Anibal Sanchez to throw a postseason no-hitter.
Part of that is respect and friendship with a fellow Venezuelan, and part due to his respect for Sanchez’s career and his pitching ability. But on Friday night, when Martinez came up to bat as a pinch-hitter against Sanchez with two outs in the eighth inning, he had only one thought on his mind.
History could come on some other night for Sanchez, against some team other than the Cardinals.
“He’s a great guy,” Martinez said. “I was just thinking after the sixth inning to go out there and break up his no-hitter. When you get to the plate it’s go time, him against me.
“Every time we see each other we talk. He’s one of the best.”
On this night, Sanchez turned in one of the best starts ever against the Cardinals in their postseason history, carrying the Nationals to a 2-0 win in the opening game of the NL Championship Series at Busch Stadium.
Sanchez had not allowed a hit through the first 7 2/3 innings as Martinez came up to bat, needing four more outs to join Don Larsen and Roy Halladay as the only pitchers in Major League history to throw a postseason no-hitter. Martinez worked the count to 3-2 before doing what none of the Cardinals’ previous 26 hitters had been able to do – get a hit.
His single to center, on an 81-miles per hour splitter, turned out to be the Cardinals’ only hit, the third time they had been held to one hit in a postseason game.
“I just wanted to put a ball in play,” Martinez said. “He’s been around a little; he knows what he is doing. His stuff was working today.”
The hit came on Sanchez’s 103rd and final pitch of the night and tied the third longest no-hit bid against the Cardinals ever in the postseason.
They also were no-hit for 7 2/3 innings by Red Ruffing of the Yankees in game 1 of the 1942 World Series before a single by Terry Moore and by Jim Lonborg of the Red Sox in game 2 of the 1967 World Series before a double by Julian Javier.
Martinez’s hit was the first by the Cardinals since Paul Goldschmidt singled in the fourth inning on Wednesday, breaking a streak of 12 innings and 42 batters they sent to the plate who failed to get a hit.
“It’s interesting, it’s baseball,” said manager Mike Shildt. “It’s one of the reasons we love it. We scored 13 runs in an elimination game and came right back and the guy threw a great game. This guy’s an accomplished pitcher … He didn’t give us a lot we could put good swings on.”
One of the few good swings came two batters before Martinez, when Tommy Edman hit a line drive that looked like it might get past first baseman Ryan Zimmerman, until he dove to his right and made the catch.
“I thought off the bat it had a chance,” Edman said, “until I saw Zimmerman dive and saw he was going to get it.”
One streak remained intact, thanks to the hit by Martinez. The Cardinals still have not been no-hit in St. Louis since July 20, 1906, when Mal Eason of Brooklyn beat them 2-0.
Here is how Friday night’s game broke down:
At the plate: The Cardinals had only three baserunners before Martinez; Kolten Wong walked in the fourth and Randy Arozarena was hit by a pitch in the sixth and Yadier Molina was hit by a pitch in the seventh. Wong and Arozarena both stole second, but each was stranded on third … It was the first time the Cardinals were held to one hit in a postseason game since game 5 of the 2004 NLCS against the Astros (a sixth-inning single by Tony Womack) … Dexter Fowler was 0-of-4 and is now 2-of-26 in the Cardinals’ six postseason games while Paul DeJong was 0-of-3 and is now 4-of-21. Molina’s 0-of-2 night left him 3-of-23.
On the mound: Starter Miles Mikolas allowed one run in his six innings, on an RBI double by Yan Gomes in the second. He held Juan Soto hitless in three at-bats, retiring him on a ground out with the bases loaded in the fifth … The Nationals increased their lead to 2-0 in the seventh on an RBI single by Howie Kendrick before John Brebbia was able to strand the bases loaded.
Key stat: The 13-run game on Wednesday was the 16th time this season the Cardinals scored 10 or more runs in a game. In the following game, they have now scored three runs or less 10 times.
Worth noting: The Nationals were without closer Daniel Hudson, who was placed on paternity leave after his wife gave birth to the couple’s third child on Friday in Phoenix. Manager Dave Martinez said Hudson “is going to try to get back” in time for Saturday’s game but it’s more likely he won’t return until game 3 Monday night in Washington … This was the first NLCS game in St. Louis in 1,825 days, since Oct. 12, 2014, which was game 2 against the Giants. Oscar Taveras tied the game with a pinch-hit homer in the seventh and Kolten Wong won it with a walk-off homer in the ninth. That was 14 days before Taveras was killed in a car accident in the Dominican Republic … As expected, there were no changes to the Cardinals roster for the NLCS from the roster they used in the Division Series … The game time temperature of 45 degrees was 3 degrees colder than the temperature when the Blues hosted the NHL Winter Classic at Busch Stadium on Jan. 2, 2017.
Looking ahead: Adam Wainwright and St. Louis native Max Scherzer will be the starter for the second game of the series on Saturday. The only other time a native of St. Louis started against the Cardinals in his hometown in the postseason was Jerry Reuss started for the Dodgers in game 4 of the 1985 NLCS. Reuss allowed seven runs, only two earned, in 1 2/3 innings. Wainwright and Scherzer opposed each other on Sept. 18 at Busch, when Wainwright allowed just one unearned run in 7 innings. Scherzer gave up 5 runs. “I like challenges,” Wainwright said. “I like going into the game with some sort of preconceived idea that somebody’s betting against me or favoring the other side. That pumps me up.” Game time is 3:08 p.m.
Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @RobRains
Photo by AP courtesy of KSDK Sports