Sanchez embracing big-game pressure

Sanchez embracing big-game pressure

PHILADELPHIA -- Jonathan Sanchez, who has spent the last few seasons pitching in the shadows of his San Francisco rotation-mates, has the chance Saturday to own the spotlight all alone.

For one night, Sanchez does not have to be overshadowed by Cy Young Award winners (Tim Lincecum and Barry Zito) and All-Stars (Matt Cain). He won't have to watch, wishing that such accolades and notoriety will also one day trail him.

Sure, Sanchez turned the heads of the baseball world last July when he threw the fifth no-hitter in San Francisco team history. And yet, a strong performance in his Game 6 start Saturday has the potential to do so much more for his legacy.

Tale of the Tape: NLCS Game 6
2010 Regular Season
Overall: 32 GS, 13-13, 2.76 ERA, 55 BB, 193 Ks
Overall: 33 GS, 13-9, 3.07 ERA, 96 BB, 205 Ks
Key stat: League-leading 1.025 WHIP
Key stat: 8-4, 2.27 ERA in past 12 starts
Postseason
2010: 3 G, 2 GS, 1-1, 3.29 ERA
Career: 11 G, 9 GS, 5-1, 3.58 ERA
2010: 2 GS, 0-1, 2.03 ERA
Career: 2 GS, 0-1, 2.03 ERA
At CITIZENS BANK PARK
2010: 7 GS, 6-0, 1.81 ERA Career: 11 GS, 10-0, 2.10 ERA
2010: 2 GS, 1-1, 1.93 ERA Career: 3 GS, 1-2, 1.80 ERA
Against this opponent
2010: 6 G, 5 GS, 2-4, 2.78 ERA Career: 19 G, 18 GS, 7-9, 3.57 ERA
2010: 3 GS, 2-1, 1.89 ERA Career: 10 G, 6 GS, 3-2, 2.88 ERA
Loves to face: Pat Burrell (4-for-18)
Hates to face: Freddy Sanchez (11-for-36)
Loves to face: Jimmy Rollins (1-for-16)
Hates to face: Shane Victorino (6-for-15)
Game breakdown
Why he'll win: Unbeaten in Philly and October veteran
Why he'll win: Won NL West-clinching regular-season finale
Pitcher beware: Threw 18 pitches in Game 4 relief appearance
Pitcher beware: Checkered history in prime-time situations
Bottom line: This is why he's here
Bottom line: He's clinched before

"It's going to be great to get to the World Series," Sanchez said Friday, shortly after the team's charter landed in Philadelphia. "We've got a lot of guys on the team that have never been there, and to be able to do that, it's going to be something special for me."

While Sanchez doesn't solely hold the fate of San Francisco's World Series aspirations, his ability to match up with Phillies starter Roy Oswalt on Saturday will be crucial. The 6-foot-2 lefty will be returning to Citizens Bank Park -- a place where he stumbled in Game 2 -- to face a Phillies club that he has fared well against throughout his career.

His previous postseason appearance aside, Sanchez is 3-1 with a 2.86 ERA in nine games (five starts) against Philadelphia. That includes two wins in as many tries during the regular season.

"He competes so well," San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy said. "He handles adversity so well; whether it's a questionable call or error, [he] puts that behind him. And he's a big reason why we're here, because of his growth."

Sanchez has talked before about wanting to cement himself as a key piece in this formidable Giants rotation, much like Lincecum and Cain have already done. And though the path hasn't always been as smooth for Sanchez as it was for the other two, he's certainly put himself on the precipice of becoming another star in the rotation with the way he has stepped up over the last six weeks.

Sanchez played a crucial role in helping the Giants erase San Diego's six-game division lead over the final 32 games. During that span, Sanchez made seven starts. San Francisco won five of those, as Sanchez posted a 1.03 ERA in 43 2/3 innings.

Among his wins was one on the final day of the season, a win that gave San Francisco the National League West crown. He followed that up with a 7 1/3-inning Division Series start against Atlanta in which he allowed one earned run.

All of this, Sanchez said Friday, has him ready for Saturday's pressure.

"I've been in that situation before," Sanchez said. "I faced San Diego. I faced Atlanta. They're postseason games, so it's going to be the same."

The Phillies were patient in their approach against Sanchez last Sunday, not often chasing his slider and changeup when they were out of the strike zone. Philadelphia's offense -- which will be back in a place where it batted .264 this season -- will likely assume a similar game plan.

To that, Sanchez said he's ready.

"[They're] just going to wait for me to be in the zone," he said. "They're taking pitches. I'm just going to get up and be aggressive in the zone. They're going to be swinging."

Sanchez is also ready for this stage. This is what the 27-year-old has been waiting for -- a chance to prove his worth, a chance to show that he belongs. This, he knows, is where he can make an indelible mark.

He will take the mound Saturday hopeful that maybe now is finally his time.

"It's been a pleasure to watch Johnny grow as a pitcher," Bochy said. "And we've always known that Johnny has the equipment to have success up here. His growth as a pitcher this year has really been fun to watch."

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.