By Brenden West
Assistant Sports Editor
When Moraina Rodriguez watches her son Victor Sanchez play baseball, “she’s usually pretty nervous,” the latter says.
“But today, she only said to me, ‘You can do it. Think about it. You can do it,’ “ Sanchez said. “So I knew I could do it. That’s why I think I pitched so good today.”
“Good” — the most understated self-assessment of a LumberKing’s performance this year.
With Rodriguez in the Clinton stands for the first time all season, Sanchez threw a complete-game no-hitter against the Lansing Lugnuts, Wednesday, as the LumberKings won 1-0. He’s now the youngest player in franchise history to do so at 18 years, 168 days. Rodriguez flew in hours before from Venezuela to watch one of the most inspiring LumberKings performances in history.
Sanchez is the seventh Clinton player to throw a nine-inning no-hitter, coming a year and six days after Jordan Shipers’ no-no on July 11, 2012. After Lansing’s Dwight Smith popped out for the final out, Sanchez sought out his mom on the third-base line for an emotional embrace.
“With his mom being here, to me, that’s the biggest thing,” Clinton manager Eddie Menchaca said. “Here’s this guy, far from home, spending most of the season alone. I get the chills just thinking about it. That’s unheard of; it’s like a movie.”
More than an hour after the performance, Menchaca and pitching coach Andrew Lorraine were still beaming at their ace in the clubhouse. Sanchez (the Seattle Mariners’ No. 6-rated minors prospect) took a month’s leave from the team between May and June to go home for his grandmother’s funeral earlier this year, Lorraine said.
“He’s really close to his family,” Lorraine said. “This is a big win for him. He hasn’t gotten a win in close to two months. So it was big for him in that regard to get back on track. I’m just proud I was able to experience that.”
The game didn’t exactly start with a bang. Lorraine said Sanchez was shaky in warmups, and the starter pegged Lansing’s second batter, Dalton Pompey, in the first inning.
“He wasn’t throwing too great in the bullpen,” Lorraine said. “He might have been nervous because his mom was here.”
Sanchez said he settled in after talking to his mom, who watched from the third-base stands.
“I just felt different today,” he said.
After hitting Pompey, Sanchez sent down 20 straight batters. Christian Lopes (whose brother Tim was at second base for the LumberKings) and Chris Hawkins both reached base in the eighth inning on Ketel Marte errors. It didn’t faze Sanchez, though; he induced an Emilio Guerrero grounder and struck out two to end the side.
Clinton’s Janelfry Zorrilla scored the game’s lone run. He walked with one out in the sixth, went to second on a wild pickoff throw, advanced to third on a fielder’s choice and scored on a wild pitch, making the game 1-0. After that, it was hard for Menchaca to continue his manager duties.
“Once we scored that run, I thought this might be it. At one point, I stopped managing and just watched him pitch,” Menchaca said. “The night belonged to him. It’s that simple.”
Aside from the hit batter, the right-handed pitcher was perfect, finishing with no hits, no walks, zero runs and eight strikeouts on 105 pitches. Sanchez struck out Jorge Flores, then induced popouts from the last two batters in the ninth to seal the win.
And his place in history. At 6-foot, 255 pounds, Sanchez looks like a much older mass of talent and experience. When asked about what it means to be the youngest, though, Sanchez said he doesn’t see himself in terms of age.
“I just go out there and think, OK, I can do this job. I can compete,” he said.
To Lorraine, a game like this may be the boost Sanchez needs to finish the season strong. The pitcher improved to 2-4 and lowered his ERA to 2.83.
“He’s a talented young man. You have to be a pretty good pitcher to throw a no-hitter,” Lorraine said.
Likewise, Sanchez credited his teammates and coaches for helping him reach this apex.
“It feels awesome, great,” he said, left hand pressed to his heart in the locker room. The emotion, the fact that his his mother was there, he added, was unbelievable. “Everybody involved deserves a thank you. Thank you to the whole team, the coaches, everybody.”