The Toronto Blue Jays were leading by a slender run in this potboiler of a contest against the Boston Red Sox heading into the seventh inning Wednesday night at Rogers Centre.
Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz and Mike Napoli, the meat of the Red Sox batting order, were all due up.
It was at this critical juncture in the game that Toronto manager John Gibbons got on the phone to the bullpen and gave the order to send in the rookie.
For Aaron Sanchez, who was only promoted from the minor league Triple-A roster the day before, his Major League Baseball debut was certainly going to be a baptism by fire.
Displaying a calm demeanour belying his tender age of 22, Sanchez displayed a fastball that touched 98 miles an hour and he got Pedroia to fly out to centre field for the first Boston out.
Then followed the mighty Ortiz, who had already stroked a home run in the game to give him four through the first three games of the series against the Jays.
Ortiz would fly out weakly to left before Sanchez induced Napoli to pop up to centre to end the inning.
In the bottom half of the seventh, Jose Bautista would swat a homer for the Blue Jays that brought the score to 6-4 – the eventual outcome.
That provided Sanchez with just a bit more wiggle room as he headed back out to pitch in the eighth, where his confidence grew.
Sanchez struck out Daniel Nava looking, got Xander Bogaerts to hit into a ground out, before ending his night with a strikeout of Stephen Drew.
As far as debuts went, this one was special.
And only after he returned to the dugout after retiring the side in the eighth and got the word from Gibbons that his night was over did Sanchez take a bit of time to take in his accomplishment.
“Gibby told me that I was done and he gave me a big smile and he said it’s okay to smile,” Sanchez said. “And I think that’s kind of when everything hit me that I’d just pitched in the big league for the first time.”
After the game was over, Sanchez was joined on the field by his parents, who had flown all the way from Barstow, Calif., for the moment.
“Unbelievable for me,” Sanchez said. “All the sacrifices that they put up with, me going through high school, making sure I was at all the events I needed to be at.
“For them to be here witnessing this, it’s pretty special for me.”
Toronto’s first round selection (34th overall) straight out of high school in the 2010 first-year player draft, Sanchez quickly matured into the Blue Jays top minor league pitching prospect.
Although the Blue Jays see him as a future starter, Sanchez will work for the time being out of the Blue Jays’ bullpen, which could use the stabilizing presence of another right-handed power arm to compliment Dustin McGowan.
Sanchez’s performance against the Red Sox was taken in by R.A. Dickey, the veteran Toronto starter who departed after six innings and who would be the eventual game winner.
Dickey said he watched it on television from the privacy of the Blue Jays clubhouse.
“I think it’s appropriate the night be about him and his debut,” Dickey said when asked for his assessment on the rookie’s performance. “ I think he was fantastic. Hopefully that’s a glimpse, kind of through the window, of what might be. I think it’s pretty neat to see something like that unfold.”
Dickey’s Major League debut was with the Texas Rangers back on April 22nd, 2001 when he pitched one inning on the tail end of an 11-2 Rangers rout.
Dickey said he can still clearly recall that occasion, but it was nothing like what Sanchez had just endured.
“I took it in a situation where the game was already kind of in hand,” he said. “We were up by a significant amount.
“I mean, he’s coming in against the 2-3-4 hitters of the Boston Red Sox with a (one-run) lead as a 22-year-old young man. And so I thought he handled himself with great poise. Hopefully, like I said, like a microcosm of what he’s going to become.”