Truth is, Sanchez had no more idea of where his fastball was going than he did of what a gallon of gas will cost next Thursday. But there is no question that the San Francisco Giants were a different team following the benches-clearing incident in their 3-2 Game 6 NL Championship Series clincher here on Saturday night.
After Sanchez hit Utley, the second baseman reflexively picked up the baseball and tossed it in Sanchez's direction en route to first base. The lefty did not appreciate the gesture, and Sanchez hollered as much at Utley. Which is when the benches cleared. (The umpires, by the way, did an excellent job of keeping things under control without issuing any ejections).
As the champagne sprayed in the Giants' clubhouse after, Sanchez refused to say what he hollered at Utley.
"I'm not going to say nothing about that," Sanchez said.
As for Utley tossing the baseball toward him, Sanchez had plenty to say about that.
"You can't do that," Sanchez said. "Take your base. He tossed the ball back to me. If you're a professional, you don't do that."
It was the third time Utley was hit by a Sanchez pitch in 20 plate appearances during his career. The two have had one previous set-to. During a game in July, 2009, Sanchez threw a fastball near Utley's head, after which the second baseman took a step toward the mound and glared at the pitcher. Later in the same at-bat, Utley called for time late, stepping out of the batter's box just before Sanchez delivered a pitch. On the next pitch, Utley smashed a homer.
Still, Sanchez said, none of that has anything to do with what happened Saturday night.
"I was trying to throw strikes with my fastball and I couldn't get anything over the plate," he sdaid.
While pitching coach Dave Righetti said Sanchez had some of his best stuff of the year during pre-game warm-ups, it disappeared by the time the first inning started. Sanchez was removed two batters into the third, after a walk and then hitting Utley in the upper back with a pitch.
His line: Two innings plus, three hits and two earned runs. He had as many wild pitches and hit batters each as strikeouts (one). He walked two.
"I didn't have it," he said. "I didn't have my best stuff."
It's not as if he didn't contribute, though. Closer Brian Wilson agreed with third-base coach Tim Flannery's assessment that the benches-clearing incident sparked the Giants.
"I'll tell you what," Wilson said. "It certainly lit a fire. I'm glad it happened. You realize what was at stake.
"At that point we were losing [actually tied 2-2] and you're looking for any reason to wake up."