MIAMI — He looked up with two out in the ninth inning Wednesday and saw the dizzying string of zeros on the scoreboard. That's when Anibal Sanchez of the Florida Marlins fought the paralysis.
His pitching hand was in his glove. His glove was in front of his mouth. Sanchez filled his lungs with the humid, South Florida air. He stood three steps behind the Dolphin Stadium mound, uncertain what to do next.
Stay put? Call time? Take the mound? He finally decided. Arizona Diamondbacks center fielder Eric Byrnes waited in the batter's box.
"I told myself, 'Now is when you have to pitch because [Byrnes] can change everything,' " Sanchez said.
Byrnes swung and missed at a 95-mph fastball, then on Sanchez's 103rd pitch, Byrnes hit a slider sharply on the ground. Shortstop Hanley Ramirez fielded it and threw to first to complete a 2-0 no-hitter, ending the longest no-hit gap in major league history. The last no-hitter in the majors was a perfect game by Arizona's Randy Johnson, who beat Atlanta, 2-0, on May 18, 2004 -- 6,364 games ago. The previous longest gap between no-hitters was 4,015 games, from Sept. 30, 1984, to Sept. 16, 1986, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
With the final out, Sanchez disappeared into a bouncing mass of white, pinstriped bodies. Sanchez, 22, then was lifted onto the shoulders of teammates Dontrelle Willis, Reggie Abercrombie and Matt Herges. His face was flush. His hair was disheveled.
"I've never experienced a feeling like that," said Sanchez. "When I won my first game against the Yankees I felt good, but this moment is unforgettable. Nothing compares to this."
Sanchez became the fourth Marlin to throw a no-hitter, joining Al Leiter, Kevin Brown and A.J. Burnett.
The no-hitter was the second by a native Venezuelan. Wilson Alvarez threw the other on Aug. 11, 1991, for the Chicago White Sox against the Baltimore Orioles.
Sanchez became the 18th rookie in baseball history to throw one and the first since Bud Smith did it for the St. Louis Cardinals against the San Diego Padres on Sept. 3, 2001.
"You can't express it," said Marlins third baseman Miguel Cabrera, who, like Sanchez, is from Maracy, Venezuela. "It something emotional that someone from your country, from the same city where you were raised can do that.... I never thought in my life I would see this. I thank him for giving me a chance to live this. It's something impressive."
Cabrera and Joe Borchard provided Sanchez with the offense, hitting solo home runs.
Second baseman Dan Uggla initiated a 4-3-6 double play to end the eighth inning, which prompted Sanchez to smack his glove three times before retreating into the dugout.
He emerged for the ninth having thrown 93 pitches, 60 for strikes. Conor Jackson took a first-pitch ball, two strikes, and swung through the fourth pitch. Luis Gonzalez, who drew two of the four walks Sanchez issued, followed and got ahead 2-0 before popping up a 2-1 pitch to Cabrera.
Byrnes, who earlier in the game lined out to left and to third, hit the 10th and final pitch of the inning, erasing the doubts Sanchez took into the ninth.
"When I went out I wasn't 100% sure I would get the no-hitter," said Sanchez, after the 233rd no-hitter in baseball history. "I had a premonition they were going to get a hit. I saw their lineup and saw they had the second, third and fourth hitters up."
Sanchez and his teammates were determined to have this one play out just as the 12,561 fans hoped it would. He peppered the left-handed hitters with changeups. He started right-handed hitters with sliders before coming back with the hard stuff.
It added up to seven innings of 12 or fewer pitches, 18 first-pitch strikes ... and no hits.
"I feel so proud, so happy," catcher Miguel Olivo said. "Everything was in conjunction. The fastball, sinker, slider, change, curve. Everything was in conjunction."
So was the defense. The Marlins made a pair of brilliant plays behind Sanchez. With two on and two out in the fourth, left fielder Josh Willingham got a late break on a Chad Tracy liner, but he snared the ball with a head-first dive.
Three innings later, Stephen Drew hit a sharp grounder up the middle. Ramirez ranged to his left, did a 360-turn behind the base, and threw to first for out No. 21.
Sanchez (7-2) had ventured into no-hit territory a few times. On July 14 against Roger Clemens and the Houston Astros, he did not allow the first of two singles until the sixth inning.
\o7The Associated Press contributed to this report.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)
Randy Johnson, above, the last pitcher to throw a no-hitter before Anibal Sanchez, had a no-hit bid Wednesday against Kansas City before David DeJesus tripled leading off the seventh. Most recent no-hitters:
Florida's Anibal Sanchez vs. Arizona, 2-0, Sept. 6, 2006.
* Arizona's Randy Johnson at Atlanta, 2-0, May 18, 2004.
* Houston's Roy Oswalt (1 inning), Pete Munro (2 2/3 ), Kirk Saarloos (1 1/3 ), Brad Lidge (2) and Octavio Dotel (1), Billy Wagner (1) at N.Y. Yankees, 8-0, June 11, 2003.
* Philadelphia's Kevin Millwood vs. San Francisco, 1-0, April 27, 2003.
* Boston's Derek Lowe vs. Tampa Bay, 10-0, April 27, 2002.
Source: Associated Press