07/11/09 9:27 PM ET
Sanchez's no-hitter 'surreal' to Righetti
Giants coach counseled lefty on mechanics, mind-set
By Andrew Pentis / MLB.com
While the looming All-Star break explained why his teammates had left, it didn't lend an understanding as to why Righetti's memorabilia was also missing. So after congratulating Jonathan Sanchez following the lefty's no-hitter Friday against the San Diego Padres, Righetti quickly went upstairs, "swallowed" in the moment and made sure Sanchez's equipment was in safe hands.
If you saw Sanchez on television repeatedly thanking "Rags" following his historic night, that would be the former Yankee and current Giants pitching coach. Fifteen minutes into his talk with reporters Saturday, after answering questions about Sanchez's mechanics, psyche and even vulnerability to trades, Righetti still looked in awe.
"It's a 'wow,'" he said. "I don't believe he did that."
"To see it happen, it's kind of surreal. You're trying so hard to get through the game and win, and then you go, 'Oh, my God.' Talk about immortality and stuff for a ballplayer."
Since Sanchez arrived in the big leagues in 2006 and, more recently, returned from Puerto Rico's World Baseball Classic team in Spring Training, copying Johan Santana's high-hands setup, Righetti has been there to talk pitching. The conversations on mechanics heated up after Sanchez was relegated to the bullpen on June 27 after his 2-8 start. Since then, Sanchez has slowed his delivery to make it easier for him to get on top of the ball.
"I told him, 'You don't have to be a mechanical man like everybody wants you to be,'" Righetti said. "He doesn't play that like that anyway. I always wanted him to flow, so there was the least [possible] pressure on his arm.
"I said, 'I'm going to try and get everything out of you I can. I want you to make 15 million [dollars] a year, or whatever the heck they're paying starters nowadays."
It's amazing to think, Sanchez, languishing in relief, was rumored to be on the trade block with the July 31 Trade Deadline fast approaching. He found himself starting Friday only because Randy Johnson's shoulder injury opened a spot, at least temporarily, in the rotation.
"He knew he was being showcased a little bit," said Righetti, who added that past rumors surrounding Matt Cain and the injured Noah Lowry weren't nearly as strong. "He had a lot of inner fire. ... He's got talent and people want [him]."
Sanchez, who said Saturday he stayed up until 4 a.m. reliving his start by talking with his dad, Sigfredo, and watching highlights, said the chatter was nothing new.
"I heard the same thing in '06. That doesn't get my attention anymore," he said, sporting a Mohawk because two days prior he pledged to teammates he would do so if he pitched a complete game. (What would he have promised to do if he threw a no-hitter?)
Sanchez also said Saturday he noticed opposing hitters were cheating on his fastball in previous starts; he was twirling quite the slider in his 51st career and best all-time start. He also exhibited more confidence on the mound, pointing to and picking up Juan Uribe after the third baseman's fielding error ended Sanchez's shot at a perfect game.
That's where "Rags comes in," who often talked mind-set with the pitcher he deemed once "lost." Witnessing his breakthrough like everybody else, though, Righetti wasn't so sure Sanchez could hold onto history. When the Padres' Adrian Gonzalez hit a deep fly ball to the left field to lead off the eighth, Righetti said, "Oh, jeez, maybe not." But John Bowker camped under the ball and squeezed it for Sanchez's 22nd out.
Sanchez's other close call came against Adrian's brother, Edgar, who flew out to center field when Aaron Rowand jumped up against the wall to snare it for out No. 26. That offering, a 91-mph fastball, confirmed to Righetti a newfound sureness in his pupil.
"That was strictly a challenge pitch," the coach said. "He was not thinking about the circumstances. I think he was just totally confident that something good was going to work out."
That transformation and the performance won't go unrewarded. Giants manager Bruce Bochy announced before Saturday's game against the Padres that Sanchez would likely pitch out of the fourth slot when San Francisco resumes its post-All-Star break schedule. That would be July 20 in Atlanta, 10 days after Sanchez matched his coach's feat.
"The breaks are always scary for a coach," Righetti said. "You never know what you're going to get when the guy comes back.
"We'll find out together. See what happens, but [Sanchez] is going to pitch again."
Andrew Pentis is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.