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Sanchez locks down NL batting title, Pirates edge Reds

CBS SportsLine.com wire reports
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PITTSBURGH -- For a moment, Freddy Sanchez's unlikely pursuit of the National League batting title got to him for the first time all season. He felt stressed out and nervous, and began swinging at anything to try for a hit.

Sanchez shook off his self-imposed pressure to get two hits and become the Pirates' first batting champion in 23 years, helping Pittsburgh to a 1-0 victory Sunday over Cincinnati that was decided by Xavier Nady's third hit of the game.

Sanchez was a 28-year-old utility infielder beginning only his second full season in the majors and didn't become a starter until early May, yet hit .344 -- the Pirates' highest average since Roberto Clemente's .345 in 1969. Sanchez's 200 hits were the second-most by a Pirates player, to Jack Wilson's 201 in 2004, since Dave Parker had 215 in 1978.

"It hasn't sunk in yet, but it's something special," said Sanchez, who beat out Florida's Miguel Cabrera by five points. "There's a lot of relief, excitement and joy."

After the game ended, Sanchez stayed on the field and waved his cap to the crowd, and his teammates crowded around to offer congratulations during a ceremony that included a video tribute to Sanchez's season. Many in the crowd of 25,004 stayed to chant his name and display black-and-gold "Go, Freddy, Go" signs that were handed out all weekend by the Pirates.

Sanchez admittedly felt the pressure on Saturday night when he went 0-for-4, keeping Cabrera in the race. Sanchez was determined to be more relaxed Sunday and he was, getting hits in each of his first two at-bats. Cabrera was pulled after going 0-for-2 when it became obvious he couldn't catch Sanchez.

"After I got the first hit, it took a load off," Sanchez said. "Last night was the worst feeling. I was so nervous and felt so much pressure. I kind of forced myself to try to get a hit, and that's not me."

Nady's go-ahead hit in the eighth followed two-out singles by Jason Bay and Ryan Doumit against Todd Coffey (6-7).

The Reds were shut out in their final two games of the season after being eliminated from NL Central contention and finished 80-82, their best record since 2000 but their sixth consecutive losing season.

"It hurts, but not as much as not being in the postseason," manager Jerry Narron said of finishing below .500. "St. Louis winning yesterday definitely took a lot out of us. But these guys battled all year and gave us a chance in the last weekend of the season to get into the postseason."

The Pirates' 67-95 record was identical to that of last season, even though they had a winning record (37-35) after the All-Star break for the first time since 1992.

"Next year, we need to put two good halves together," general manager Dave Littlefield said.

Or a couple of halves at a consistency level like Sanchez's, who hit .300 or better in every month of the season.

Sanchez's title was all the more unlikely because of what he endured to get to the majors. He was born with a deformed foot that needed surgery when he was 1, and some doctors felt he might not walk, much less run. But not only did he reach the majors, he became the Pirates' 25th NL batting champion, the most of any club.

"He is a tremendous overachiever," manager Jim Tracy said.

Sanchez's batting title probably meant more to the Pirates than it would have to most other clubs because they have gone so long without a winning season -- 14 years, two short of the major league record. Sanchez's title also illustrates one reason why the Pirates have flopped for so long: their often-curious personnel decisions.

Even after Sanchez hit .291 last year, the Pirates felt he didn't hit enough for power. So they signed Joe Randa to a $4 million contract to play third and moved Sanchez into a utilityman's role. But Sanchez hit so well early in the season that he forced them to make him an everyday player, and he began starting regularly on May 2.

Sanchez also drove in 85 runs despite hitting only six homers -- the only player with as many RBI and so few homers since divisional play began in 1969 was the Indians' Julio Franco with six homers and 90 RBI in 1985.

Matt Capps (9-1), a rookie making his 85th appearance, got the victory by retiring one batter in the eighth after Shane Youman gave up four hits in seven innings. Salomon Torres pitched the ninth for his 12th save in 15 chances, during his 94th appearance -- tying a club record set by Kent Tekulve in 1979. The only pitcher in major league history with more appearances was the Dodgers' Mike Marshall with 106 in 1974.

"Can you believe I would need to pitch in 12 more games to tie him," Torres said. "I certainly have a lot of respect for Mr. Marshall."

Torres struck out Javier Valentin to end the game with runners on first and third -- the only time in 18 innings over their final two games the Reds advanced a runner to third.

Both starting pitchers were lifted after pitching shutout ball -- Youman after seven innings in his third career start and the Reds' Matt Belisle after throwing a career-high six innings.

Notes

  • The Pirates finished with a winning home record (43-38) for the first time since PNC Park opened in 2001.
  • Pirates CF Chris Duffy sat out with a sore hamstring. He was hurt while running the bases Saturday.
  • Capps finished one game short of the NL rookie record of 86 appearances by Arizona's Oscar Villarreal in 2003.
  • Pirates C Ronny Paulino sat out Sunday, but became the first rookie catcher since Mike Piazza in 1993 to hit at least .310 and play in at least 100 games.
  • The Pirates were one of six teams in the majors that didn't draw 2 million, attracting 1,861,549 in 80 dates.
 
Copyright 2014 by STATS LLC and The Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and The Associated Press is strictly prohibited.
 
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Freddy Sanchez tips his hat to the adoring crowd at PNC Park after securing the batting crown. (AP)
Freddy Sanchez tips his hat to the adoring crowd at PNC Park after securing the batting crown. (AP)

Players of the Game
Pittsburgh

X. Nady
AB 4
R 0
H 3
HR 0
RBI 1
Pittsburgh

F. Sanchez
AB 4
R 0
H 2
HR 0
RBI 0
 

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Cincinnati Reds
Chris Denorfia, CF4010001
Juan Castro, 3B4000001
Edwin Encarnacion, 1B4000010
Adam Dunn, LF4010011
David Ross, C2000201
    Brandon Phillips, PR0000000
Brendan Harris, 2B3010001
   a- Javier Valentin, PH1000012
Ray Olmedo, SS3010002
Dewayne Wise, RF3000011
Matt Belisle, P1000000
    Ryan Franklin, P0000000
   b- Royce Clayton, PH1000000
    Todd Coffey, P0000000
Totals300402410 
a-struck out for Harris in the 9th
b-lined out for Franklin in the 8th
Batting
2B - Chris Denorfia (, Youman)
SH - Matt Belisle ()
Team LOB - 6
Fielding
DP - Olmedo-Encarnacion, Harris-Olmedo
PB - David Ross ()
Cincinnati Reds
Matt Belisle 6500230
Ryan Franklin 1200020
Todd Coffey (L,-) 1411020
IBB - Bay by Matt Belisle
WP - Matt Belisle ()
Pitches-Strikes - Matt Belisle 87-50, Ryan Franklin 17-12, Todd Coffey 25-18
Ground Balls-Fly Balls - Matt Belisle 7-6
Batters Faced - Matt Belisle 23, Ryan Franklin 5, Todd Coffey 7
Pittsburgh Pirates
Jose Bautista, CF4000022
Jack Wilson, SS3010110
Freddy Sanchez, 3B4020001
Jason Bay, LF3110113
Ryan Doumit, 1B4010004
Xavier Nady, RF4031010
Jose Castillo, 2B4020001
Carlos Maldonado, C4000015
Shane Youman, P2000011
   a- Joe Randa, PH1010000
    John Grabow, P0000000
    Matt Capps, P0000000
    Salomon Torres, P0000000
Totals3311112717 
a-singled for Youman in the 7th
Batting
2B - Jack Wilson (, Belisle)
RBI - Xavier Nady ()
2-OUT RBI - Xavier Nady ()
Team LOB - 10
Fielding
DP - J. Wilson-Doumit
E - Jack Wilson (, Throwing)
Pittsburgh Pirates
Shane Youman 7400110
John Grabow 0.2000010
Matt Capps (W,-) 0.1000000
Salomon Torres (S,) 1000120
WP - Salomon Torres ()
Pitches-Strikes - Shane Youman 80-52, John Grabow 5-4, Matt Capps 3-2, Salomon Torres 25-16
Ground Balls-Fly Balls - Shane Youman 12-7, Matt Capps 1-0, Salomon Torres 2-0
Batters Faced - Shane Youman 25, John Grabow 2, Matt Capps 1, Salomon Torres 5
Game Information
Attendance - 25004
Game Time - 2:10
Temperature - 63
Umpires - Home - Bob Davidson, First Base - Mark Wegner, Second Base - Marvin Hudson, Third Base - Jerry Layne