MIAMI -- Anibal Sanchez was standing behind the mound when the scoreboard caught his eye, confirming what he already knew: He was one out from a no-hitter.
He froze. For a couple of seconds, the Florida Marlins' rookie didn't move.
"I said, 'Wow. This hitter is the last one,'" Sanchez said.
Then he collected himself and, in this year of sensational rookies, finished up the greatest performance yet.
The 22-year-old Venezuelan brought the longest period without a no-hitter in major league history to a close Wednesday night, benefiting from three defensive gems by teammates to lead the Marlins over the Arizona Diamondbacks 2-0.
"This is the best moment of my life," Sanchez said. "You never think that's going to happen."
One of four rookies in the Florida rotation, Sanchez (7-2) walked four and pitched around an error. He struck out six and threw 103 pitches in his 13th career start.
Sanchez finished it off in quick fashion in the ninth. He struck out Conor Jackson swinging on a 1-2 pitch, induced Luis Gonzalez to pop out to third, then retired Eric Byrnes on a sharp grounder to shortstop Hanley Ramirez, who fielded the ball carefully on one knee before throwing to first for the out.
"The last ground ball, I wasn't going to flub that," said Ramirez, another rookie. "It wasn't going to get past me."
Before Ramirez even threw the ball, third baseman Miguel Cabrera began sprinting toward Sanchez and was the first to arrive with a hug. Players poured out of the Marlins dugout en masse and swarmed around the pitcher, with the jubilant mob collectively hopping as one between the mound and third base.
"That was a lot of bouncing," said Wes Helms, who caught Ramirez's throw for the final out. "It's once-in-a-lifetime for a lot of people."
Sanchez' teammates then hoisted him on their shoulders.
"The most special moment was his face and how proud he was -- and exhausted," left fielder Josh Willingham said.
Sanchez pointed and thrust his fists to the small crowd, where his wife sat in stands.
"She was there," he said, his eyes wet with tears of joy. "I don't know, I can't say any more. I love her, I love my family."
It was the first no-hitter in the majors since Arizona's Randy Johnson threw a perfect game to beat Atlanta 2-0 on May 18, 2004.
"Congratulations to him," Johnson said, after himself flirting with a no-hitter Wednesday night against Kansas City before surrendering a leadoff triple in the seventh.
Sanchez's performance ended a stretch of 6,364 major league games between no-hitters. The longest gap previously was 4,015 games from Sept. 30, 1984, to Sept. 19, 1986, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
|Time Between Modern Day No-Hitters|
|3 years, 44 days||Aug. 8, 1931-Sept. 21, 1934|
|2 years, 260 days||Aug. 21, 1926-May 8, 1929|
|2 years, 241 days||Aug. 30, 1941-April 27, 1944|
|2 years, 110 days||May 18, 2004-Sept. 6, 2006|
|Source: Elias Sports Bureau|
As for the amount of days, the span of two years, 110 days is the longest gap between no-hitters since World War II, when two years and 241 days passed between Lon Warneke's no-hitter for the St. Louis Cardinals on Aug. 30, 1941, and Jim Tobin's no-no for the Boston Braves on April 27, 1944.
The most recent no-hitter by a rookie was by Bud Smith of St. Louis, who beat San Diego 4-0 on Sept. 1, 2001.
"To be on the other end is not fun," Byrnes said. "It's embarrassing."
The Diamondbacks came close to a hit several times, but were denied by a Marlins defense that ranks next-to-last in the NL.
Ramirez ranged to his left to snare a grounder by Stephen Drew in the seventh, then whirled and threw to beat the runner by half a step. Sanchez greeted Ramirez coming off the field with a high-five and a slap on the rear.
Ramirez repaid the favor after making the last out, smashing a shaving-cream filled towel in Sanchez' face as he spoke to the television cameras.
"Maybe I'll have to shave after the game," Sanchez quipped.
Willingham sprinted in to make a diving catch and rob Chad Tracy with two on to end the fourth, and a rare 4-3-6 double play ended the eighth. With Craig Counsell at first, Orlando Hudson hit a grounder to second baseman Dan Uggla, who missed a swipe at Counsell and threw to first. First baseman Mike Jacobs' relay to second retired Counsell.
"When I sat on the bench in the eighth, I thought, 'This is my day,'" Sanchez said.
The hardest-hit ball was in the sixth by Byrnes, who pulled a line drive that Cabrera reached up to snare with two hands.
In the fifth, Arizona's Carlos Quentin hit a sharp grounder down the line. Cabrera made a backhanded stop on one knee, then rose and threw wide, pulling Jacobs off the bag.
Official scorer Ron Jernick charged Cabrera with an error, prompting cheers from the crowd. A smiling Cabrera later applauded the ruling.
"That was a bad throw, man," he said.
Cabrera and Joe Borchard hit homers for Florida's runs.
Sanchez is not considered one of the Marlins' half-dozen contenders for NL Rookie of the Year, but he improved his ERA as a starter to 2.28. He's one of 21 rookies to play this season for the Marlins, the youngest team in the major leagues.
Announced attendance was 12,561, but the actual crowd was perhaps half that. The surprising Marlins are last in the major leagues in attendance even though they are only three games behind San Diego in the NL wild-card standings.
"In the midst of the wild-card race, we have a player who steps up and throws a no-hitter," manager Joe Girardi said. "That's pretty amazing, that they've grown up that much."
The Diamondbacks have lost seven of their past eight games and 15 of 19 to fade from the playoff race.
Sanchez retired the first 10 batters, then fell behind Jackson 3-0 and walked him on a 3-2 pitch. He then walked Gonzalez on four pitches, but Byrnes lined out, and Willingham's skidding catch in left ended the inning.
"You don't know, but you're hoping the ball is going to stay in the air long enough to get under it," Willingham said.
Gonzalez walked again on four pitches before Byrnes once more lined out to end the sixth.
Sanchez's longest previous start was seven innings, but he had plenty left at the end. His fastball usually is in the 90-92 mph range, but in the ninth he reached 95. His final pitch was a nasty, low slider to Byrnes.
"He threw harder the last couple of innings than he did the whole game," Arizona manager Bob Melvin said. "I don't think we squared up on one or two balls the whole night. He had everything going."
Sanchez threw mostly sliders, but catcher Miguel Olivo said he called more changeups from the right-hander than usual -- about 20 -- because the sinking pitch was so effective against lefties.
"I never saw it break like that before," Olivo said.
Arizona's Edgar Gonzalez (1-2), recalled from Triple-A Tucson to make his third start of season, pitched six-plus innings and allowed five hits and two runs, both on homers. Borchard hit his ninth home run in the second inning to tie a career high. Cabrera hit his 24th homer in the fourth.
The no-hitter was the fourth in the Marlins' 14-season history, and the first since A.J. Burnett threw one against San Diego on May 12, 2001. The only other pitcher to no-hit the Diamondbacks was Jose Jimenez of St. Louis, who beat Arizona 1-0 on June 25, 1999.
Florida acquired Sanchez last November in the trade that sent Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell to the Boston Red Sox. He went 3-6 this season for Double-A Carolina before joining the Marlins, and on June 25 became the second starting pitcher in 10 seasons to win his major league debut as a visitor at Yankee Stadium.
As memorable as that day may have been, it will forever pale in comparison. Sanchez said he never before came close to pitching a no-hitter at any level.
"I'm going to remember this," he said, "every morning, every day."
- There were perhaps 2,000 fans in the stands when the game began.
- Sanchez is the second Venezuelan to throw a no-hitter. The first was Wilson Alvarez in Aug. 11, 1991 for the Chicago White Sox against Baltimore.