Sanchez pitches in here one more time

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His three-game weekend against the Pirates included 2 wins, 7 hits in 13 at-bats, 2 doubles, 4 runs scored and 2 RBIs, including the winner in the San Francisco Giants' 6-5, 10-inning victory Sunday. Yet the thing Giants second baseman Freddy Sanchez will remember most about his trip back to Pittsburgh -- or, as he put it, his trip "back home" -- is his two innings of pitching Saturday.

No, Sanchez didn't pitch against the Pirates, although I'm thinking he could have struck out Jeff Clement just as easily as two-time Cy Young Award-winning teammate Tim Lincecum did Sunday. Sanchez pitched in a game involving special-needs kids at the Miracle League Field in Graham Park in Cranberry Township. He loved it every bit as much as the players, who had the time of their young lives.

It's no wonder Sanchez showed up to be the honorary pitcher Saturday morning even after the Giants-Pirates' rain-delayed game the night before ended well after midnight. He and his wife, Alissa, cried when they dedicated Miracle Field in May of last year, their $50,000 donation going a long way in the funding. The Pirates traded him to the Giants a couple of months later for minor league pitcher Tim Alderson. He signed a two-year, $12 million contract with the Giants after the season.

"Golly, what a feeling seeing the smiles on those kids' faces," Sanchez said. "That means everything to me. That's real life. That's changing people's lives. Before that field came along, a lot of those kids couldn't say, 'I played in a baseball game today.' Now, they can. That's what it's all about."

Many of the Pirates fans at PNC Park over the weekend knew of Sanchez's good work in the community. They also knew he was one of the Pirates' most productive players -- a three-time All-Star and the National League batting champion with a .344 average in 2006 -- during a six-year period that stretched the franchise's record consecutive losing streak to 17 seasons.

Is it any wonder the ovations in each of the three games were loud and loving for Sanchez?

"You don't know what you're going to get," he said. "Obviously, you're hoping for something good, but these are Pirates fans and I'm not a Pirate anymore. But it turned out to be a great welcome for me. I definitely heard them and I appreciate it."

In the end, Sanchez played a huge part in sending the fans home unhappy after two of the three games. Not that anyone could have been surprised. "A lot of the people I met here this weekend told me, 'I love watching you play. I love the way you play the game,' " Sanchez said. "That's the greatest compliment you can give to any ballplayer."

Sanchez went 3 for 4 in the Giants' 6-4 win Friday night-into-Saturday morning. He nearly tied the score in the ninth inning Saturday night when he smoked a ball to left field with the bases loaded that Pirates left fielder Lastings Milledge made a diving catch after taking a rather odd, circuitous route to the ball to save a 6-3 win. Then, he scored two runs after singles Sunday and, after taking a called third strike from Pirates relief pitcher Brenden Donnelly with the bases loaded in the eighth inning, got just enough of a 1-2 pitch from reliever Octavio Dotel in the 10th to score teammate Andres Torres on a sacrifice fly for the winning run.

"That son of a gun can hit," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said of Sanchez.

Hey, tell us something we don't know, Skip!

"He's just a tough out," Bochy said, doing his best to oblige.

"He uses the whole field and makes contact as consistently as any hitter in the game. Good hitters find ways to get the good part of the bat on the ball. [Hall of Famer] Tony Gwynn is the best I ever saw at that. Freddy is close."

Sanchez's numbers are staggering since joining the Giants May 19 after offseason surgery on his left shoulder. Would you believe a .371 average? Sure, you would. How about a 10-game hitting streak during which he is batting an even .500 (18 for 36)? Of course, you'd believe that, too.

"It's not just his talent on the field," Bochy said. "It's the energy he brings us and the confidence he brings to our team in the No. 2 hole."

It's no surprise that Sanchez is excited to be back playing after missing so much time. But that's only one part of it. The one thing the Giants are giving him that the Pirates never could is a pennant race. He has never been in one, and he's having a blast.

"That's the only regret I have," Sanchez said. "I couldn't get it done here. We couldn't get it done as a team. These fans deserve it. I take that personally that we failed them."

By now, the Giants' clubhouse was empty. Sanchez wasn't taking the team flight to Cincinnati Sunday night. He, Alissa and their boys, Evan, 5, and Ryan, 2, were driving.

To be a fly in that car ...

Can you imagine the stories? Dad's big weekend. The trip to Miracle Field. The visit to the boys in the stands by the Pirate Parrot.

"That's what they'll remember most," Sanchez said, grinning.

Not us.

We'll remember how much fun it was watching Sanchez play again and what we're missing now that he's gone.


Ron Cook: rcook@post-gazette.com . Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.


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