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ON BASEBALL

He seems to be the real deal

Sanchez shows right stuff with no-hitter

The trade was made back in the days of the gorilla suit and Pearl Jam concerts in South America, when Jim Beattie was being courted by Red Sox CEO Larry Lucchino as Theo Epstein's possible successor, the team was operating as general manager by committee, and Epstein's only role was a clandestine one, designated whisperer to aides Ben Cherington and Jed Hoyer and e-mailer to majority owner John W. Henry.

So in the aftermath of last night's no-hitter thrown by Anibal Sanchez, the former Red Sox prospect who last November went with stud shortstop Hanley Ramírez to Florida as part of the Josh Beckett/Mike Lowell deal, Epstein is in a position to deflect demands to know what the Sox were possibly thinking when they made that deal.

Sanchez no-hits Arizona. D4.

In that respect, Epstein may escape the fate of Lou Gorman, the baseball lifer whose career tends to be judged on only one of the hundreds of deals he made over decades, the one that sent a little-known Double A prospect named Jeff Bagwell to the Houston Astros for Larry Andersen.

Bagwell, of course, went on to have a Hall of Fame-caliber career for the Astros; Andersen pitched a month for the Red Sox.

The Red Sox already have reaped greater returns on this deal, Lowell playing a splendid third base while regaining his batting stroke, and Beckett given a three-year, $30 million deal to demonstrate that he will become the ace the Sox thought they were getting.

But while Lowell will be 33 next year and Beckett has his doubters, Ramírez has been a sensation in South Florida. And last night Sanchez, in a 2-0 win against the Arizona Diamondbacks, became the first major leaguer to throw a no-hitter since Randy Johnson's perfect game against Atlanta in 2004.

``We could have used his no-hitter tonight," Rob Leary, the Red Sox minor league field coordinator, noted in an e-mail on a night that Sox pitchers allowed 14 hits, the 25th time in the last 36 games they've given up 11 or more hits.

``Seriously, he's a great kid we really liked," Leary wrote. ``I couldn't be happier for him. He worked hard to come back from an elbow injury [nerve transposition] to become a very good prospect. The big thing for him was he needed to create some leverage to his fastball. He didn't consistently get the downward angle you need to succeed."

That obviously isn't a problem anymore. Sanchez was still at Double A Carolina in late June, when a half-hour before he was scheduled to make a start, he was told he was needed. In New York. Against the Yankees.

How's this for a big league debut? He threw 5 2/3 scoreless innings against the Bombers, which inspired the Marlins to cancel his return ticket to Carolina. In his third start, he outdueled Roger Clemens, who had never lost to the Marlins. In another start, he shut out the Washington Nationals on one hit for seven innings.

Last night, in his 13th career start, Sanchez, a 22-year-old righthander from Maracay, Venezuela, threw his no-no. The last out of the game? A ground ball to shortstop Ramírez, who inspected Bud Selig's signature on the ball before throwing to first just in time to nip Eric Byrnes. And it was Ramírez who stuck a shaving-cream pie in the face of Sanchez after he'd been hoisted onto the shoulders of teammates, weeping and pointing in the stands at his wife, Yeliceth .

``The last ground ball, I wasn't going to flub that," Ramírez said. ``It wasn't going to get past me."

The Sox clubhouse last night was full of guys who had played with Sanchez at Double A Portland, or had rehabbed with him in Fort Myers, Fla., while he recovered from his elbow surgery. David Murphy and Kason Gabbard and Jonathan Papelbon and Manny Delcarmen and Craig Hansen.

``I rehabbed with him," said Gabbard, who on Tuesday night got his first big league win. ``They said he had good stuff before he got hurt. Two years later, I finally saw him pitch [in Portland last season] and he was unbelievable."

Al Nipper was the Sox' minor league roving pitching instructor when Sanchez was here.

``I didn't think he was big league ready," Nipper said. ``But he always showed good stuff. He worked hard. There were times you had to prod him, but that was when he was really young. He showed glimpses of good stuff, good pop. He touched 95, 96 occasionally, had a good curveball, changeup, cutter."

Delcarmen watched the highlights of Sanchez's no-hitter on TV in the Sox clubhouse.

``It was awesome," Delcarmen said. ``He's real quiet, but he has always been confident on the mound. Like Papelbon here just flew through the system, the same thing with him. He's strong mentally. Everybody is happy for him.

``We had great expectations for him."

Those expectations, some already fulfilled, belong to the Marlins. It's enough to make a man climb into his gorilla suit and cry.

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