As he came out of the bullpen for his major-league debut, Aaron Sanchez was reminding himself of one thing: don’t run.
He’d been so geeked up during his first relief appearance at Triple-A, he’d sprinted to the mound.
“By the time I was ready to throw my first pitch, I was huffin’ and puffin’ real bad,” Sanchez said. “I never was able to catch my breath. Things took off from there.”
On a replay from Wednesday night, you can see him thinking. As the door swings open, he springs forward. Two steps in, he nearly stops dead. The rest of the way, he’s ambling, all long limbs and awkward grace.
There is probably no more magical walk in sport. Regardless of the occasion, none is anywhere near as transformative as the first.
Three hundred or so feet that change you. Barring lightning strikes and other acts of God, after that walk, you are now and forevermore, a big-leaguer.
“That’s it! Big-leaguer!” Sanchez says, popping upright. “You said it. That is what you dream of your whole life.”
There’s a lot to like about the 22-year-old Californian, and pitching might be the least of it. Most rookies tend toward one of two emotional poles – cocky or cowed. Sanchez is already able to inhabit a midway point – happy to be here, but feeling no need to pretend surprise.
His fondest memory of the moments after he came back to the bench: “I felt very welcomed.”
Speaking about the night, Sanchez wasn’t much interested in talking about mechanics or the various miracles of the radar gun. Some pitchers – both good and bad – talk obsessively about the trivia of their work. Sanchez shrugs disinterestedly on the topic. Instead, he kept returning to that inaugural walk to the mound.
Whether it was as a starter or a reliever, different pitchers remember it in very different ways.
Dustin McGowan: “I was wanting to get out there just to get it over with, to get going. It seemed like it took forever.”
Brandon Morrow: “That’s funny. I don’t remember the run out. I barely remember what happened at all. Your mind’s going so quick, it just happens.”
And Casey Janssen, who was, as usual, perfect on the subject: “The most nervous I’ve ever been in my life. I’d like to go back and watch that game, only because I was trying to throw it so the catcher could catch it. Not to a location. I just didn’t want it to go the backstop. That nervousness didn’t go away the whole time. I remember hearing my dad in the crowd. I don’t know how that’s possible. He yelled, ‘Throw strikes, bud!’ … It was something you dreamed about your whole life, and then you couldn’t wait for it to end. I know everyone’s first experience is different, but mine was, ‘I’m glad that’s over.’”
How many things could we all say that about?
In retrospect, you have to allow for variances in performance. Janssen was so-so to begin with – pulled after four innings, took the loss.
Sanchez arrived hyped, and, in a half-hour, he left the town hysterical. It wasn’t his line – two innings pitched, two strikeouts, no runners. It was the manner in which he variously overpowered and outwitted the meat of the Red Sox order. He looked prodigal. He already looks like a star.
“It went all right,” he’s now willing to concede.
One wonders if he’s playing it cool, or is just this cool.
In the two days since he’d come up from the minors, a couple of teammates had buttonholed him. They reminded him of the usual – that it’s the same game, that the mound’s still 60 feet 6 inches away. The only difference – “You just have 30,000 people watching you.”
He retains little impression of the performance itself. As they say (though we’re never sure exactly why), he pounded the zone.
After coming out, he’d returned briefly to the clubhouse, but hadn’t looked at his phone. He sat blankly on the bench until someone – he’s no longer sure exactly whom – told him it was okay to smile. So, for the first time, he smiled.
Once the media left, he’d sent his family to a restaurant across the street from Rogers Centre. Then he put in a solitary 45-minute workout. Only then did he check his phone. More than 50 texts. By the next morning, he still hadn’t read most of them.
He went across the street for dinner.
How was it?
“It was okay,” he says. “Only a couple of people recognized me.”
He was sitting in the Jays dugout as he said it, staring dreamily into left field. He returned to the subject of the walk out. As he did so, he traced the route in real time in the air with his finger. This was as close as you get to witnessing someone else’s flashback.
“Once that gate opens down there and you’re running to the mound, it’s real,” Sanchez said. He turned back and smiled, making sure he was being understood. “I think winning the World Series is the only thing that could ever top that.”