Sanchez's clutch hit sends Bucs to win

Sanchez's clutch hit lifts Bucs

PITTSBURGH -- Add another chapter to Freddy Sanchez's storybook season.

You can title this one, "Mr. Clutch."

Sanchez, the National League leader in batting average and average with runners in scoring position, again came through when the Pirates needed him most Wednesday afternoon at PNC Park. His two-run single with the bases loaded and two outs in the bottom of the 11th inning propelled the Pirates to an 10-9 win over the Cubs.

After the Cubs scored twice in the top of the 11th against Marty McLeary, it took a team effort just to put Sanchez in a position to play the hero's role. The decisive rally was almost a carbon copy of the blueprint Pittsburgh used to push the winning runs across in the 11th inning the night before.

Xavier Nady got things going with a base hit off Cubs closer Ryan Dempster, and Nady scored two batters later on Jose Castillo's fourth hit of the afternoon. Seldom-used catcher Humberto Cota came through with his second big pinch-hit single in as many days, and as was the case Tuesday night, it came as a result of a ball deflected off the glove of Cubs third baseman Aramis Ramirez. Jose Bautista, who drew a walk from Dempster on Tuesday night to force in the winning run, coaxed another free pass to load the bases.

The stage was set for Sanchez to shine.

"Those are the situations that you want to be up in," said Sanchez. "You're not going to succeed every time at them, but when you do, it feels good."

Sanchez quickly fell behind, 0-2, by fouling off two pitches, one of which rolled foul just before reaching first base.

"If that's an inch further in, it's game over," Sanchez said. "Fortunately enough, we got the call."

Two pitches later, Sanchez lined a Dempster slider, that was low and outside, to right field for the win.

"[Dempster] had just thrown me slider after slider, and his slider is tough," Sanchez said. "I was just trying to get something away. He threw another slider, and I just wanted to put the ball in play and hopefully find a hole."

Pirates manager Jim Tracy marveled at Sanchez's ability to put the final pitch of the four-hour, 14-minute game into play.

"I really don't know how he hit that pitch," said Tracy. "I don't know if it was a strike or not, but I don't know too many people who could have gotten the bat on the ball.

"He is absolutely uncanny at getting the barrel of the bat on the same plane as the ball.

"It's been awesome to have him up in that kind of situation. You don't want anyone else up. He came through again."
-- Xavier Nady, on
Freddy Sanchez

"He's a great hitter. It's uncanny. I've watched Tony Gwynn take swings like that."

Sanchez's teammates have come to expect such things from the All-Star infielder.

"It's been awesome to have him up in that kind of situation," Nady said. "You don't want anyone else up. He came through again."

"He's been clutch all year," added fellow All-Star Jason Bay. "I was just busting his chops, saying that he set [Dempster] up with the first two swings and then he got him."

Sanchez, for his part, modestly attempted to downplay his role in the win.

"I just happened to come up with the bases loaded," Sanchez said. "Everyone else did their part to get on base. The guys in front of me deserve all of the credit."

With only two hits in six at-bats Wednesday, Sanchez actually saw his batting average drop a point to .348. Florida's Miguel Cabrera currently is ranked second in the NL with a .338 mark.

"With the year he's had, I don't think there is a person in this clubhouse who isn't rooting for this kid to win this batting championship because of what he's done for this club," Tracy said. "He's so deserving of that."

McLeary, who was promoted from Triple-A Indianapolis on Monday, earned his first big-league win. He worked his way out of a first-and-third, one-out jam in the 10th inning before giving up a pair of runs in the 11th.

"It feels good," McLeary said of the win. "I wish I would have done it a little more cleanly. But Freddy came up big for us.

"As a pitcher, you know you don't have to be perfect, because those guys are going to come through."

McLeary echoed the sentiments of a team that has begun to grow in confidence while winning nine of its 11 one-run games in the second half after going 9-25 in such games prior to the All-Star break.

"Now, we kind of feel like we can [win close games]," said Bay. "The big difference is going in there and, instead of being like, 'I hope we win this,' as we were doing early on, now, it's like, 'We can win this.' Once you get that confidence, it's easier to go out there and do that."

With their first three-game sweep at home against the Cubs since April 9-11, 1999, the Pirates pulled to within 1 1/2 games of Chicago for fifth place in the National League Central Division.

Ed Eagle is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.