It starts out like a Johnny Carson joke before ending with a cliché. But Friday afternoon, it was definitely true.
Aaron Sanchez was so good -- how good was he? -- Aaron Sanchez was so good on the mound, that the only thing that could beat him was himself.
The Blue Jays' top prospect tossed five hitless innings Friday but allowed Peoria's only unearned run of the game as Salt River coasted to a 3-1 win in Arizona Fall League play.
With the win, Sanchez, who struck out eight, improved to 1-1 with a 0.98 ERA, 0.76 WHIP and 18 strikeouts through five starts (18 1/3 innings). He hasn't allowed an earned run in three straight starts, spanning 13 1/3 innings.
Cardinals farmhand James Ramsey smacked a leadoff homer in the first and Rockies prospect Kyle Parker followed that up with a two-run homer to give the Rafters a comfortable early lead.
From there, it was all Sanchez. The 6-foot-4 right-hander mowed through the first 12 Javelinas he faced with seven of those going down by strikeout. He needed only 48 pitches to get through those first four frames, and of those 48, 31 were in the strike zone.
"For me, it was just attacking hitters," he said. "My game is to get early contact and to try to get late in the game. I just fed off that. Everything was working well."
That is, until the fifth inning when things looked like they would unravel. Sanchez retired Japhet Amador and Tommy Medica for the first two outs of the frame before plunking Aaron Altherr to give Peoria its first baserunner of the contest.
The Salt River starter's pickoff attempt then went astray, allowing Altherr to move to third. The Phillies prospect came around to score the Javs' only run on another Sanchez miscue when the latter couldn't handle a ball off the bat of Patrick Kivlehan (Mariners), committing a throwing error.
Sanchez tacked on a free pass to Cameron Perkins (Phillies) before getting Chris Taylor (Mariners) to ground out to first to end the inning and the threat. He threw 22 pitches in the fifth, but allowed the no-hitter to stay intact.
Despite the wacky fifth frame, the Blue Jays hurler was just happy to keep his team in the lead and especially to keep the zero in the hits category.
"Obviously, you're here with the best bunch in Minor League ball, so to do that here is special," he said. "It gives me more confidence. It only gets better from here."
Known for a blistering fastball and a plus curveball, Sanchez went 4-5 with a 3.34 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 75 strikeouts and 40 walks in 86 1/3 innings with Class A Advanced Dunedin this season. A shoulder injury kept him out for a month between May and June, and he didn't throw more than five innings in an outing from that time until Aug. 29.
After being limited each of the previous three seasons, the 21-year-old hasn't been able to crack triple digits in terms of innings yet, and it was with that in mind that he eagerly accepted his trip to the Fall League, where he is expected to make one more start before officially entering the offseason.
"It's been a huge help for me," Sanchez said. "Just coming out here and pitching my game. I had some ups and downs this season with the DL and then only being able to throw three or four innings and with the weather the way it was in Florida, I was pitching on six, seven, 10 days rest. So to come out here on a regular regimen with the best group of guys, it's actually been a lot of fun."
Salt River's attempt at a no-hitter fell through in the sixth when Padres prospect Austin Hedges singled off reliever and Cardinals farmhand Dean Kiekhefer. Tyler Matzek (Rockies) allowed just one hit and struck out three in the seventh and eighth, and Matt Stites (D-backs) earned his second AFL save with a scoreless ninth.
Royals prospect Jason Adam (1-2) took the loss for the Javelinas after serving up the two homers to Ramsey and Parker in the first. He finished with three runs allowed on four hits and two walks to go with six strikeouts in five innings.