Informed he would be an emergency starter an hour before Game 1 of a first-round Pacific Coast League playoff series against the Oklahoma City RedHawks, Brian Sanches tossed 52/3 shutout innings to lead Omaha to a 3-1 win Wednesday night at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark.
The Storm Chasers' scheduled starter was 22-year-old right-hander Yordano Ventura, one of the Kansas City Royals top prospects. Ventura, though, was scratched an hour before the game for “violating team rules.”
Sanches, a 35-year-old veteran right-hander who pitched last season with the RedHawks when he was in the Astros' organization, surrendered only four hits to give Omaha a 1-0 lead in the best-of-5 PCL semifinal series.
“We knew at 6 o'clock Sanches was throwing,” said RedHawks manager Tony DeFrancesco. “Our guys made adjustments. They had plenty of time to prepare. Sanches did a great job keeping the ball down, moving it around. He made some pitches when he had to.”
Omaha manager Mike Jirschele wouldn't elaborate on why Ventura was yanked an hour before the game or whether Ventura might start a game later in the series.
“It's just disciplinary. It doesn't have anything to do with anything else,” Jirschele said. “I'll be talking with the front office to see what they want to do.”
Sanches was 10-3 with a 3.20 ERA this season for Omaha. A lifetime bullpen specialist with nearly 1,000 minor league innings and 235 major league innings with the Phillies, Nationals and Marlins, Sanches made 13 starts for Omaha. But in the previous nine seasons he had a combined nine starts.
“I've had this role a lot this year,” Sanches said. “A couple of times I've had to make (emergency starts) when someone got called up. This is not the first time this has happened this year. It comes with experience. You can't flip a switch, but I've always had a routine that's helped me get ready.”
OKC starter Asher Wojciechowski pitched eight solid innings before being removed in the ninth after surrendering a solo home run to second baseman Christian Colon.
Irving Falu singled to lead off the game, stole second and scored on Ben Broussard's sacrifice fly.
Wojciechowski then retired 14 consecutive hitters before the Storm Chasers took a 2-0 lead in the sixth on Broussard's two-out RBI single.
OKC cut the lead to 2-1 in the seventh and threatened to tie it. Che-Hsuan Lin drew a leadoff walk and advanced on a throwing error by Omaha catcher Manuel Pina's wild pickoff attempt. Lin scored on another error, by third baseman Anthony Seratelli.
Later in the seventh, Omaha right-fielder Paulo Orlando preserved the lead by throwing out Carlos Perez at the plate when Perez tried to score on a shallow fly ball.
In a short series, the team that leads 1-0 has an edge. But DeFrancesco, who won three PCL titles with Sacramento in the Oakland A's system, said it's only one game.
“I've had teams that have lost the first two, then won three in a row,” DeFrancesco said. “The guys just have to go out and play good baseball. We have a good pitcher going for us (Thursday) night. It'd be nice to split here and then go try to get two of three at their place.”
Oklahoma City owned the best record (82-62) in the PCL during the regular season. Omaha won its division despite finishing below .500.
“You can try to look at it on paper, but you still have to go play the game,” Sanches said. “We weren't even supposed to get in. The final game of the season, we went against Josh Lindbloom, a big league guy. Our team won't wow anybody, but we've had a knack for grinding it out.”