After nearly two years in the Yankees organization and multiple setbacks, the Bronx-born Sanchez finally made his Major League debut on Thursday, pitching a scoreless eighth inning in New York's 9-2 victory over the Chicago White Sox.
"I tried to appreciate every second," Sanchez said. "I took a couple of steps walking out of the bullpen and made sure I soaked it in as much as possible. I pinched myself once or twice to make sure it was me walking out of that bullpen.
"Once I got to the mound, it was just taking care of business and doing what I'm here to do. Every aspect of it is mind-boggling and takes your breath away."
It has been a long road to come back home for the 25-year-old Sanchez, who was acquired from the Detroit Tigers in December 2006 as part of a three-player package for outfielder Gary Sheffield and later converted into a reliever.
A 6-foot-7, 270-pound right-hander, Sanchez missed the entire 2007 season after recovering from Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery, then had to have a second procedure to remove calcification from his pitching elbow, setting him back another three months.
Sanchez opened the 2008 campaign on the disabled list with a stress fracture in his right elbow and finally began pitching in games in June, but he experienced another setback and had to have his rehab halted. By now, he was wondering if his new organization was viewing him as injury-prone.
"It was tough," Sanchez said. "You don't know what people are going to say or think, and thank God I've been here two years already and got to know some of the guys. At least this Spring Training wasn't awkward. Now, I'm a little more familiar with the organization and how things work here."
Sanchez started over on Aug. 11 with the Gulf Coast Yankees before joining the Double-A Trenton Thunder for their run to an Eastern League championship. In 12 combined rehab appearances between the GCL, Class A Tampa and Trenton, Sanchez was 0-2 with a 3.68 ERA and 19 strikeouts in 14 2/3 innings.
"There was a point until we got to the end of the playoffs that I didn't know if I was even coming up here," Sanchez said. "I thought that I was healthy and I pitched up to Double-A and would go to the Fall League and continue to pitch there, and get ready for Spring Training. At one point in the year, it was not realistic to think that I was probably going to join the team."
It was, as Sanchez says, "a roller coaster," but it began to pay dividends when he received the long-awaited call to the big leagues before Monday's game against the White Sox.
A graduate of South Bronx High School who called 166th Street and University Avenue home as a boy, Sanchez quickly traveled to the Bronx and bunked with his father, who resides at 183rd Street and Jerome Avenue.
When he was called upon Thursday to help preserve Mike Mussina's 18th victory, Sanchez did so knowing that his wife, Jennifer, and mother, Silvana, were also in the building, as were numerous family members and especially his 4-month-old son, Aiden.
"He won't remember any of this, but I'll get him down and take some pictures of him in daddy's locker," Sanchez said. "It'll be fun."
Yankees manager Joe Girardi presented Sanchez with a lineup card from Thursday's game, a contest in which catcher Francisco Cervelli and first baseman Juan Miranda also made their Major League debuts.
Longtime trainer Gene Monahan saw to it that the ball from Sanchez's first Major League strikeout was preserved and hand-delivered to his locker on Friday, drawing a wide grin from the hurler.
"It's more special than I thought it would be, and then some," Sanchez said. "Being a guy from the Bronx made it more special."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.