Tony Sanchez emotional after debut at catcher

Justin K. Aller

Lost in all the awesome swirling around tonight was that Tony Sanchez made his big-league debut at catcher, crouching behind the plate as Brandon Cumpton dominated the Cardinals. Sanchez also collected his first RBI with a sacrifice fly. After the game, he reflected on his first night catching before an ecstatic crowd at PNC Park.

"Wanted to get through a clean first, and once we did it was smooth sailing from there. Cumpton made it really easy for me. I kind of leaned on him for that first inning," Sanchez said. "He's been here before."

Cumpton and Jeanmar Gomez held the Cardinals to three hits in the game.

"It worked out for seven innings, and it was beautiful," said Sanchez.

Sanchez said his experience working with the Pirates' pitchers in Spring Training paid off in tonight's more charged atmosphere.

Of course, Cumpton's performance surely helped. Cumpton often looked nasty, and Sanchez said that even he was surprised by how well Cumpton pitched.

"I caught him last week in Charlotte, and he was not as sharp as he was tonight," Sanchez said. "I've caught him on some of his best days, and tonight was easily his best night."

Sanchez is, of course, a character, and he thrives off his interactions with fans, as his colorful Twitter account demonstrates. After the game, he said he felt relatively normal after the first inning, but noted that it wasn't easy for him to ignore fans who yelled out to him.

"When you're behind the plate or you're hitting, you can really hear everything," he said. "And for me, I'm such an attention guy, I love attention. It's hard for me not to look back and smile, [and] I've got a guy on third with less than two outs that I've got to drive in. So it's hard."

Sanchez didn't have the easiest path through the minors, and after being drafted fourth overall in 2009, there were times when he looked like something close to a bust. He said after the game that there were times when he wasn't sure whether he would make it to the big leagues at all.

"I'm not going to lie. When I was hitting .240 in Double-A my second year, [I thought], 'It's not going to work out. Baseball's not as easy as it was in college."

Nevertheless, he stuck it out. Whether Sanchez will have a lasting major-league career remains to be seen. But after a strong half-season at Indianapolis, he's here now, in the midst of a playoff race.

"Lining up on the field after that shutout -- I mean, you guys have no idea how much that means to me," he says. "All the adversity I went through, it makes it all worth it."

David Manel contributed the reporting to this post.

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