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Aníbal Sánchez takes no-hit bid into eighth, leads Washington Nationals to NLCS Game 1 win over St. Louis Cardinals

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Aníbal Sánchez took a no-hit bid into the eighth inning of last night’s game, and the Nationals ended up winning 2-0 over the Cardinals in the NLCS opener.

League Championship Series - Washington Nationals v St Louis Cardinals - Game One Photo by Scott Kane/Getty Images

Aníbal Sánchez made his ninth postseason appearance and eighth start in Game 3 of the NLDS with the Los Angeles Dodgers, giving up four hits, two walks, and one run in an 87-pitch, five-inning outing in which he struck out nine of the 21 batters he faced.

Sánchez received no decision in the 10-4 loss, and he finished the night with a 2.98 ERA, 17 walks, 55 Ks, and a .217/.282/.408 line against in 48 13 postseason innings pitched in his 14-year big league career.

The 35-year-old right-hander was asked in yesterday’s pre-start press conference if there was anything he could take away from the NLDS outing, or if a new series and opponent meant a whole new challenge as prepared for his first NLCS start since 2013.

“For me my whole career every game is different, every situation is totally different,” he said.

“The game that I had against the Dodgers, I think I had a really good game plan with [Kurt Suzuki], so it’s helped a lot. But tomorrow is going to be a different day, different crowd, different team. I [haven’t done] my homework, but I start today to prepare my game for tomorrow and let’s see how my game plan for tomorrow is and hopefully just put up a quality start for the team.”

Sánchez was well on his way to a quality start through three, retiring the first ten hitters to step up against him on 34 pitches with the Nationals out to a 1-0 lead.

He gave up a one-out walk to Kolten Wong in the fourth, but stranded him at third two outs later, and retired the side in order in the fifth, completing five scoreless and hitless innings on just 56 pitches.

Randy Arozarena took a fastball off the left elbow with one out in the sixth, giving the Cards their second baserunner of the game, and he stole second, and then moved to third base on a groundout, but he was stranded there, and Sánchez completed his sixth scoreless and hitless inning at just 75 pitches.

It was 2-0 Nationals when Sánchez came back out after a long top of the seventh, and got through another scoreless and hitless inning, working around a two-out HBP to keep his no-hit bid going, and he got two outs in the bottom of the eighth before Cardinals’ pinch hitter José Martínez connected for a two-out hit that ended the starter’s outing...

Aníbal Sánchez’s Line: 7.2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 5 Ks, 103 P, 67 S, 5/9 GO/FO.

Sean Doolittle got the final out of the eighth, and retired the Cards in order in the ninth to lock down the Nationals’ Game 1 win.

While Kurt Suzuki caught the majority of Sánchez’s starts this season, he was still going through tests after taking a pitch off his wrist and face in Game 5 of the NLDS, so they wanted to be careful with the veteran catcher and Yan Gomes got the nod.

“They had a great game plan together,” Nats’ skipper Davey Martinez said after the 2-0 win in Busch Stadium. “He very seldom caught Sánchez this year, but he was unbelievable today, really was, so I’m proud of him, he stepped up big, and it’s been like that, he’s been big. Suzuki went down and for the last three weeks or something and he’s been huge. So I’m proud of him.”

Sánchez finished the night with 10 called strikes, spread across his six pitches, and 23 total called strikes.

“We put a really good game plan [together] today and I just tried to execute every pitch that I threw today,” Sánchez said after the game.

“I don’t want to over-throw or even thinking of anything else. It’s good when I got that kind of command and it’s basically because it’s easier for the catcher to call the game.

“Aníbal and I had a great game plan going into it,” Gomes told reporters. “We were sticking to it and we were communicating really well in between innings. I would go up to him if he had anything to say to me or what we were seeing, we were going with. I mean he was tremendous tonight, hitting every quadrant any time we needed to hit a spot or something, every pitch meant something, we were setting it up for something else.”

“This guy’s an accomplished pitcher in this league and has done a nice job for their club,” Cards’ skipper Mike Shildt said after the loss. “Did a nice job against the Dodgers. That’s why before the game when we had our little gathering here people were talking about the big three and I said hey, we’re going to respect them, we’re familiar with them but we got a guy tonight that we got to contend with, and not overlook him. And we didn’t. He was just really good, made a lot of quality pitches and didn’t give us a lot we could put good swings on.”

“Everybody talks about [Stephen Strasburg], [Max] Scherzer, [Patrick] Corbin,” Martinez said when he too was asked about the Nationals’ rotation.

“I mean Aníbal’s been, he’s a big part of why we are here too.”

“He’s a big part of our success and man, he goes out there and he gives us a chance to win every time he’s out there.”

What was the game plan Sánchez and Gomes came up with going into the outing?

“I just want to be out of the power zone of those guys,” Sánchez said. “Every mistake -- if you make a mistake against those guys they’re pretty strong, they can change the score in one swing. I just tried to keep the ball on the corners, my two-seamer was working really good today and we used it a lot.”

“He was spot on with everything today,” Gomes said. “Anytime he was, we were throwing a pitch it meant something to set up another pitch. I think it was mentioned earlier today, his two-seamer, he was putting it wherever he wanted and we were getting early outs with it.

“When that starts happening you kind of start seeing a little bit of guys trying to over-swing, trying to do a little bit more at the plate.

“And you just keep attacking that zone where, before they start making adjustments and we don’t have to.”

And working with Gomes this time instead of Suzuki, and doing so well together, how did it work out?

“For me it’s the communication is really important,” Sánchez said. “Just know how many times that Kurt has caught me in the game, but for me the communication is really important and that’s why we did today, Gomes and I, before the game, just talking about every hitter, every situation. And like he said, every pitch means something to set up for another pitch. It’s no big deal that we have either Kurt or Gomes. Gomes is really good behind the plate and at the end if you got a really good communication, everything is easier to call the game.”

Sánchez’s effort and the two runs of support he got gave the Nationals a 1-0 lead after the first NLCS game in franchise history (2005-present), and Scherzer takes the hill in Game 2 in Busch Stadium this afternoon.