Marlins' Gaby Sanchez's first homer a confidence boost

MIAMI GARDENS - After an injury-plagued season Marlins rookie Gaby Sanchez finally had cause to smile Saturday night after walloping his first big-league homer to cap off an 11-3 rout of the Washington Nationals.

And it was made sweeter because his two-run pinch-hit blast came on the night the Marlins were honoring his alma mater and Land Shark Stadium co-tenants, the University of Miami, who added 18,500 Hurricanes fans to the third largest gate (38,214) of the season.

"It was fate, one of those coincidences that happen once in a while,'' said Sanchez, 26, a Miami native. "It was like being almost back home with all the mascots, the band playing, the Hurricanes giving the C-A-N-E-S. It was a real nice experience being out there. It was perfect timing.''

What wasn't perfect timing came during a spring training game in March when Sanchez who was bidding to be the Marlins Opening Day first baseman - sustained a severe bone bruise on his left knee after colliding with former Nationals outfielder Lastings Milledge. That set him back and eventually landed him in Triple-A New Orleans.

"Spring training could've easily gone better for me,'' Sanchez said. "It was terrible timing that first month in New Orleans. I was feeling good, seeing the ball, hitting it and then I tear the MCL in my right knee. It's tough but you can take it two ways, like this is a terrible year or you try to come back and not get down on yourself. I chose the latter.''

Sanchez was batting .345 with 19 runs, four homers and 16 RBI, before the injury. After his return he ended up hitting .289 with 16 homers and 56 RBI before the Marlins called him up on Sept. 8. After a rough 1-for-11 start, mostly pinch-hitting, he got hold of a Logan Kensing slider and sent it into the left-field seats not far from where the UM band was sitting a few innings earlier.

"I didn't know what was going on but I knew I hit it good,'' said Sanchez, who was 3-for-8 in five games last season. "After I stepped on home plate and went into the dugout I was, 'This is kind of cool.' ''

What's even cooler is Sanchez is injury free and despite having Nick Johnson standing in his way at first base is a more confident major leaguer.

"This year was a good learning experience,'' he said. "Now I'll come back next year and be a lot more confident and more relaxed.''

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