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Marlins rookie Sanchez tosses baseball’s first no-hitter since 2004

Anibal Sanchez threw the first no-hitter in 2 1/2 years, and for the Florida Marlins, the timing was perfect. The rookie’s gem helped them keep pace in the NL wild-card race.

Sanchez ended the longest stretch without a no-hitter in major league history Wednesday night, benefiting from three sparkling defensive plays by teammates to lead the Marlins over the Arizona Diamondbacks 2-0.

“I was just thinking about a win, because I want to help the team make the wild card,” Sanchez said.

The surprising Marlins, who have baseball’s youngest team and lowest payroll, remained three games behind wild-card leader San Diego, which beat Colorado 2-0 in 11 innings. The Marlins have won 14 of 17.

“In the midst of the wild-card race, we have a player who steps up and throws a no-hitter,” first-year manager Joe Girardi said. “That’s pretty amazing, that they’ve grown up that much.”

Sanchez (7-2) is not considered one of the Marlins’ half-dozen contenders for NL Rookie of the Year, but his performance against Arizona topped them all. Making his 13th career start, he struck out six, walked four and pitched around an error.

“This is the best moment of my life,” said the 22-year-old Venezuelan, one of four rookies in the Florida rotation. “You never think that’s going to happen.”

Sanchez’s longest previous start was seven innings, but he had plenty left at the end. His fastball usually is in the 90-92 mph range, but in the ninth he reached 95. His final pitch was a low slider to Eric Byrnes, who grounded out.

“His best pitch of the night,” Byrnes said.

“You’ve got to give him kudos,” Arizona manager Bob Melvin said. “He threw harder the last couple of innings than he did the whole game. I don’t think we squared up on one or two balls the whole night. He had everything going.”

The Marlins can only hope the no-hitter finally gets South Florida excited about them. Announced attendance was 12,561, but the actual crowd was perhaps half that for a club last in the major leagues in attendance.

Those on hand were on their feet at the end, and Sanchez finished it off in quick fashion in the ninth. He struck out Conor Jackson swinging, got Luis Gonzalez to pop to third, then retired Byrnes on a sharp grounder to shortstop Hanley Ramirez.

Before Ramirez even threw the ball, third baseman Miguel Cabrera began sprinting toward Sanchez and was the first to arrive with a hug. Players poured out of the Marlins dugout en masse and swarmed the pitcher.

“It’s once-in-a-lifetime for a lot of people,” said Wes Helms, who caught Ramirez’s throw for the final out.

Sanchez’s no-hitter was the first in the majors since Arizona’s Randy Johnson threw a perfect game to beat Atlanta 2-0 on May 18, 2004.

“Congratulations to him,” said Johnson, who flirted with a no-hitter Wednesday night for the New York Yankees before surrendering a leadoff triple in the seventh against Kansas City.

Sanchez’s performance ended a stretch of 6,364 major league games between no-hitters. The longest gap previously was 4,015 games from Sept. 30, 1984, to Sept. 19, 1986, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

The most recent no-hitter by a rookie was by Bud Smith of St. Louis, who beat San Diego 4-0 on Sept. 1, 2001.

The Diamondbacks came close to a hit several times, but were denied by a Marlins defense that ranks next-to-last in the NL.

Left fielder Josh Willingham sprinted in to make a diving catch and rob Chad Tracy with two on to end the fourth. Ramirez ranged to his left to snare a grounder by Stephen Drew in the seventh, then whirled and threw to beat the runner by half a step.

A rare 4-3-6 double play ended the eighth, with Craig Counsell getting tagged out at second to end the inning.

“When we made that double play, you thought, ‘This might happen,”’ Willingham said.

Arizona also flirted with a hit in the fifth, when Carlos Quentin hit a sharp grounder down the line. Cabrera made a backhanded stop on one knee, then rose and threw wide, pulling Jacobs off the bag.

Official scorer Ron Jernick charged Cabrera with an error. A smiling Cabrera later applauded the ruling.

“That was a bad throw, man,” he said.

Arizona’s Edgar Gonzalez (1-3), recalled from Triple-A Tucson to make his third start of the season, pitched six-plus innings and allowed two runs, both on homers. Joe Borchard hit his ninth home run in the second inning to tie a career high. Cabrera hit his 24th homer in the fourth.

The no-hitter was the fourth in the Marlins’ 14-season history, and the first since A.J. Burnett threw one against San Diego on May 12, 2001. The only other pitcher to no-hit Arizona was Jose Jimenez of St. Louis, who beat Arizona 1-0 on June 25, 1999.

“I never want to be on the other side of those again,” Byrnes said. “It’s embarrassing.”

The loss ended a tough trip for the Diamondbacks, who blew leads in four consecutive games and went 1-5 on the trip to fade from playoff contention.

Sanchez is the second Venezuelan to throw a no-hitter. The first was Wilson Alvarez in Aug. 11, 1991 for the Chicago White Sox against Baltimore.