Pirates manager John Russell could only have hoped that his last-minute decision to insert Sanchez into the Bucs' lineup instead of giving him a day off would pay off for his club. But never could either have drawn up what happened next.
With six swings of his bat in the Pirates' 10-8 win over the Cubs on Monday, Sanchez washed away that nagging 8-for-45 slump with a 6-for-6 night. With the performance, Sanchez joined Texas' Ian Kinsler as the only players to collect a half-dozen hits in a game this season.
"I guess I was smart enough to keep him in [on Monday]," Russell quipped. "An outstanding night for him."
Sanchez's night started with a second-inning double. A single in the third and a two-run homer an inning later put Sanchez a triple shy of the cycle after only four innings. No Pirates player has hit for the cycle since Daryle Ward turned the trick in 2004.
"That was the last thing on my mind," Sanchez said later. "You can't be picky. You've just got to go out and try and put the bat on the ball and let everything else kind of take care of itself."
That it did. Sanchez, the 2006 National League batting champion, singled in the sixth, again in the seventh and capped it off with a sharp single to right to lead off the ninth.
"Six hits doesn't happen very often," center fielder Nate McLouth said. "It was pretty neat to watch. Six hits is good for a three-game series. He had it in one night."
The six-hit game was a first for the franchise since Wally Backman connected for that many against San Diego on April 27, 1990. It was the first six-hit game by a National League player since St. Louis' Skip Schumaker did last July.
"That was awesome," outfielder Brandon Moss said. "I would love to have a night like that. I know that's happened before, but I've never seen that in person. What a night."
Along with the six hits, Sanchez scored four times and drove in three. His fourth-inning homer pushed the Pirates temporarily in front of Chicago. And in what turned out to be a narrow victory, Sanchez's two-out RBI hit in the seventh proved pivotal.
"Obviously it felt good," Sanchez said. "It wouldn't have been the same if we hadn't pulled out the win. It's tough to get hits in this game and you just want to keep it going when you can. I didn't want to swing at anything just to get a hit. I wanted to see a good pitch and try to get some hits tonight."
The timing of Sanchez' hitting barrage was, to say the least, a bit unexpected. Though he led the team with 16 multihit games before Mondays' contest, Sanchez had been in an offensive rut of late. His batting average had dropped from .336 to .297 in the past 11 days, while at the same time Sanchez's strikeout total rapidly escalated.
Always an aggressive hitter at the plate, Sanchez decided to shorten up his swing over the weekend to try and combat his recent struggles. Instead of driving the ball for the fences, Sanchez wanted instead to be content in taking what he was given.
"It was something I needed to do," Sanchez said. "I was striking out a lot and swinging at a lot of bad pitches. I just wanted to shorten up and put the ball in play. Fortunately I was able to find a few holes tonight. I feel better than I have in the past week or two. I'm definitely going in the right direction."
Sanchez's two hits with this new approach on Sunday apparently were just a harbinger for the show he was to put on in front of 38,942 fans at Wrigley Field on Monday.
"He was a lot more patient," Russell said of Sanchez's approach. "He wasn't jumping at the ball. When Freddy does that, he's very dangerous. He laid off some pitches and got some good pitches to hit and did something with them."
"It's awesome," added starter Paul Maholm. "The last week or so it seemed like he had kind of been struggling and swinging at a lot of stuff out of his zone. Today was his day. It was awesome to watch, and hopefully it will get him on a streak to where he'll be able to carry the team for a little while."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less