Seizing chance to start, Pirates' Sanchez shines

July 16, 2006|By COMPILED FROM INTERVIEWS AND OTHER NEWSPAPERS' REPORTS.

He knew he was an unexpected invite last week.

The Hollywood kid with spiky hair and a megawatt smile, Freddy Sanchez looks like he should be playing a baseball player on TV, not hanging with Albert Pujols and Nomar Garciaparra at the All-Star Game.

Improbably, Sanchez has gone from utility infielder to All-Star in three months.

"It's one of those things that's like, `Who would have thought?' Who would have thought I would have been an All-Star coming into the year?" Sanchez said.

Last season, Sanchez showed he could stick in the majors for the first time, batting .291 in 132 games. At 28, he presumably had a few solid years ahead of him as a competent reserve. That's what the Pittsburgh Pirates believed when they signed third baseman Joe Randa in the offseason, pushing Sanchez to the bench. But in late April, with Randa injured, Sanchez was made a starter. He knew then that 2006 could be different.

"When they said, `OK, you are going to be our starting third baseman,' " Sanchez said, "it was kind of like, `Wow, this is going to be special,' because I knew I was going to be going to the field every day and playing. You can't beat that."

Sanchez, who was traded to the Pirates by the Boston Red Sox with closer Mike Gonzalez in the 2003 Jeff Suppan deal, seized the opportunity. He hit and kept hitting.

At the break, Sanchez's average was .358 and he was battling with Garciaparra for the batting crown. He also had five homers and 49 RBIs - numbers good enough to make the midsummer classic at PNC Park.

The Pittsburgh favorite seized that moment, too, making a great leaping grab of Mark Loretta's liner in the fifth inning Tuesday, which prompted the fans to chant "Fred-dy! Fred-dy!"

Not a bad half year for a utility guy.

Lasorda's on board

Count Hall of Fame manager and baseball ambassador Tom Lasorda as one who doesn't mind that World Series home-field advantage is decided at the All-Star Game.

Lasorda said he would have liked to have had that proviso during the four years he managed the game. But, based on the competitive way the players treated the exhibition years ago, he said, "We didn't need it then."

He said he was never afraid to leave stars out of the game.

"I always had a meeting and told the players, `I can't guarantee you're going to get into the game, but you're still all All-Stars,' " Lasorda said.

Saying the right things

The Milwaukee Brewers' Carlos Lee and Washington Nationals' Alfonso Soriano are All-Stars. They are both pending free agents. So last week in Pittsburgh, both were grilled about their futures.

And they said nearly the same thing: "I want to stay" in my current city, but you have to "explore all options."

Translation: See you at the winter meetings.

Quick hits

The Colorado Rockies won 27 road games last year. They had won 22 on the road by this year's All-Star break. ... If the Nationals, as expected, trade Jose Guillen this month, newly acquired Austin Kearns will move from center to right field, opening up one more chance for former Oriole Luis Matos to seize an everyday center-field job.

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