June 27, 2012
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Gera Sanchez came into the 2012 baseball season as the closer for the University of New Mexico and became the all-time saves leader for the Lobos after a month of work.
But that wasn’t where he made his mark in 2012 for the Lobos. Instead it was his first month in the starting rotation because it was one of the finest streaks a UNM pitcher has ever had.
On March 31, the Lobos were playing at Fresno State with Austin House pitching for UNM when rain halted play after three innings. Play resumed the next day and the Lobo coaching staff decided to put Sanchez on the mound.
It turned out to be a sage decision.
He pitched the final six innings, allowing only two hits and two walks while striking out 10, to earn his fourth win of the season in what was the last relief appearance of his career.
Head coach Ray Birmingham and his staff kept Sanchez in the rotation for the rest of the season, and the senior right-hander did not disappoint.
In his first start he struck out 13 and allowed only one run in 7 1/3 innings at Air Force on April 7. He proceeded to strike out nine in six innings against San Diego State the following week, and then he turned in perhaps his best performance of the year against Florida Gulf Coast on April 22. He continued to baffle opposing hitters as he struck out 10 and did not allow an earned run in eight innings of work as the Lobos pulled out a narrow 2-1 victory.
Four straight appearances of at least six innings and nine strikeouts vaulted Sanchez to the top of the NCAA leaderboards. He led the country in strikeouts per nine innings, averaging an astonishing 13.28.
"I don't know what his ceiling is," Birmingham said about his former closer. "He's capable of so much. He's got so many different arm angles and so many different pitches from each slot."
In his next start on April 29 against UNLV, Sanchez went seven innings, allowed only one run, and struck out five to earn his third win of the month. He finished April with an astounding 47 strikeouts in 34 1/3 innings while allowing only five earned runs. It was an absolutely incredible run that helped the Lobos win a school-record eight consecutive weekend series.
Sanchez did not finish the season leading Division I in strikeouts per nine innings, but he still finished a very respectable 10th and led UNM with 95 total strikeouts as he earned second team All-Mountain West honors.
He also helped solidify UNM’s rotation and was a big part in helping the Lobos record their lowest ERA in 35 years, win their first regular-season championship since 2000, win their second straight Mountain West Tournament championship, and make their third consecutive postseason appearance.