Pirates�wanted him to fly to Nashville. But having just been dealt by the
Red Sox before the 2003 trade deadline, minor league infielder Freddy Sanchez
decided he'd rather make the 1,100-mile drive from Pawtucket, R.I., to his new
Triple A home. Sanchez was upset by the trade, but he insists that wasn't the
reason he declined the Pirates' request. No, he hoped that a long, leisurely
drive with his wife, Alissa, would help heal the sharp pain in his right foot
that had sidelined him for a couple of games. Sanchez didn't feel any better
when he pulled into Nashville, though he still suited up. "The pain was so
excruciating, I knew I couldn't play on it," he recalls. "But I didn't
want to go to a new team and be like, Oh, I can't play." Sanchez limped
through his debut on Aug. 3 before undergoing surgery to repair a bone spur,
stalling his Pirates career before it had begun.
Now, three years
after the five-player swap that sent righthanded starter Jeff Suppan to Boston,
Sanchez has arrived in every sense of the word. At week's end he was hitting
.356 to lead the National League by 20 points, still one more example of how it
can take years to evaluate the true beneficiaries of a deadline deal. The Red
Sox gave up Sanchez because they believed a deeper rotation would yield their
first championship since 1918. Suppan, who had won five straight decisions for
Pittsburgh, went 3--4 with a 5.57 ERA down the stretch and didn't make a
postseason appearance. (He did his part to end Boston's drought, however, by
signing with the Cardinals in the off-season and then losing a 2004 World
Series game to the Sox.)
Sanchez, meanwhile, evolved into this season's most unlikely All-Star. After
hitting .291 as a utility player in 2005, he cracked the lineup only after
third baseman Joe Randa went down at the end of April with a stress fracture in
his right foot. Sanchez's potential, however, was no secret. "He had hit at
every level," says Pirates general manager Dave Littlefield, who needed two
trades in '03 to land him. He initially inquired about Sanchez before a July
22, four-pitcher deal in which Boston sent Brandon Lyon and Anastacio Martinez
to the Pirates for relievers Scott Sauerbeck and Mike Gonzalez. But Lyon, it
turned out, had a bad right elbow. Pittsburgh filed a grievance, and the teams
renewed negotiations. On July 31 the Pirates returned Lyon and Martinez to the
Red Sox, threw in Suppan and received Sanchez, Gonzalez and cash.
"He's a guy
that has to grow on you," says Blue Jays scout Mike Berger. "You have
to see him for an extended period. Pure and simple, he has a knack for finding
the ball on the big part of the bat. There's not a lot of wasted energy to his
A former Burbank
( Calif.) High star who played at two NAIA schools before the Red Sox took him
in the 11th round of the 2000 draft, Sanchez is popular among his teammates,
who appreciate that his demeanor hasn't changed since the days when he was
getting five at bats a week. When this year's All-Star picks were announced,
Pirates outfielder Jason Bay, another deadline-deal prospect who went on to
prosper in the bigs (chart, right), called his wife, Kristen. His first words
were, "Freddy made the All-Star team!"
you?" Kristen asked.
yeah," Jason replied, "I made it too."
the most write-in All-Star votes in the majors this year, just one sign of his
rising profile among fans. Another: In a June 29 game against the White Sox,
Sanchez already had three hits when he came to the plate in the bottom of the
ninth with the score tied 6--6. With the crowd chanting Fred-dy! Fred-dy!
throughout his at bat, he responded by drilling a walk-off homer to leftfield.
The chants continued until he came out for a curtain call. It's a far cry from
his first days as a Pirate. "It was hard to take at first," says
Sanchez of the trade from Boston. "That was the team I came up with, the
only team I ever knew. All the history that goes along with the Red Sox is
something that I wanted to be a part of. But things happen for a reason. [The
trade] was the best thing that could have happened to me."