Ron Cook: Pirates catcher Sanchez has big league attitude


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This season, of all seasons, being Francisco Liriano's catcher is mostly a wonderful thing. Liriano has pitched so well for the Pirates that they are on the verge of a playoff spot and tied for first place in the National League Central Division. He threw a no-hitter for six innings Sunday against the Chicago Cubs at PNC Park before tiring and giving up two runs in the seventh. He didn't get a decision for the first time in his 24 starts this season but gave the Pirates a chance to win. They were grateful and took care of business, 3-2.

But only being Liriano's catcher does have one drawback this time of year.

"I'm pretty sure there won't be room on the playoff roster for a personal catcher," Tony Sanchez was saying after making big contributions to this latest win, which sliced the Pirates' magic number to clinch a postseason spot to six.

That's likely to leave Sanchez out. Russell Martin is the team's No. 1 catcher. John Buck came in a trade Aug. 27 from the New York Mets to provide veteran backup experience.

"It's been too good of a year for me to dwell on something I can't control," Sanchez said. "I've been here two months and it's been such a whirlwind for me. It's been such an entertaining two months. If that's how it works out and I'm not on the roster, the view won't be as good, but I'll still be here every day supporting these guys."

I love Sanchez's attitude.

Check this out.

"I thought being drafted No. 4 overall [in 2009] was big," Sanchez said. "So was my first big league call-up [in June]. But to be playing in big games like this? To be a small part of the group that brought winning baseball back to Pittsburgh for the first time in 20 years? That's pretty special."

Sanchez will have plenty to brag about when he's old, gray and sitting around remembering his performance in this significant win against the Cubs. He didn't just guide Liriano through those six no-hit innings. He hit a home run to right-center field in the fourth inning off Cubs starter Travis Wood to give the Pirates a 2-0 lead.

It was Sanchez's second home run in the majors. He hit his first Aug. 24 in San Francisco. You might remember his dismay about potentially not getting that prized ball back. A fan threw a ball on the field, but it wasn't the home run ball. It was a Pony League ball.

"I did end up getting it," Sanchez said. "The guy found me on Twitter and sent it to me. He didn't want anything. There were no negotiations. But I sent him an autographed catcher's mitt and some autographed baseballs. He made out OK."

Liriano had a rare bad game that night in San Francisco and was the loser. He and Sanchez made much more beautiful music together Tuesday night in a win in Texas against the Rangers. Then, there were those six no-hit innings Sunday.

"Heck, yeah, I thought he had a chance," Sanchez said. "That's the closest I've ever come to a no-no. Man, that was exciting."

The problem was Liriano needed 99 pitches to get through the six innings. Pirates manager Clint Hurdle went to Sanchez and asked him if he could get Liriano through one more inning.

"I told him, 'Absolutely,' " Sanchez said. "But I know around 100 pitches is when Frankie starts to get tired. I knew it was going to be tough if he was going to do it."

Chicago's Junior Lake hit Liriano's first pitch in the seventh inning for an infield single into the hole at shortstop. Welington Castillo followed with a home run to left-center field. One more batter and Liriano was finished.

"He gave us everything he had," Sanchez said. "He was great today."

Sanchez doesn't know if he will catch Liriano's next start Friday night at home against the Cincinnati Reds. No one has talked to him about that precious postseason roster spot. He said he is having too much fun to worry about it. He is having the time of his life with a bunch of players who are making Pittsburgh baseball history.

"I'm a big leaguer," Sanchez said, repeating it twice as if he can't believe it. "I'll be able to tell my kids I was a big leaguer. My kids' friends will think I'm cool because I was a big leaguer. I like that. I like that a lot.

"No one will ever be able to take that away from me."

How do you not love Sanchez's attitude?

pirates - roncook

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. First Published September 16, 2013 4:00 AM


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