MIAMI — The game began on a damp, typically dreary night at the Florida Marlins' ballpark, with a couple of thousand fans in the stands, reaffirming that the city has yet to embrace its young, overachieving, playoff-chasing team.

By the ninth inning, the crowd was on its feet, roaring for the Marlins' latest rookie sensation, Anibal Sanchez.

Even South Florida gets excited about a no-hitter.

Sanchez threw the first one in 2 1/2 years, the longest such drought in the major league history, to help Florida beat the Arizona Diamondbacks 2-0 Wednesday.

Luckily for Sanchez, no-hitters thrown in mostly empty stadiums still count. The announced crowd was 12,561, but even with late arrivals, the actual turnout was perhaps half that for a team that ranks last in the major leagues in attendance.

"I know not a lot of people are coming here," Sanchez said yesterday. "I would like it if more people came because that helps the team."

"No-Hitter Night" apparently needed more advance promotion. The atmosphere was so subdued that Marlins ace Dontrelle Willis, watching from the dugout, didn't realize Arizona was hitless until teammates charged the field after the final out.

Sanchez was mobbed near the mound, then pointed and thrust his fists to the stands, where his wife was easy to spot amid the many vacant seats.

Popular with his teammates, Sanchez showed endearing grace as he savored his night in the spotlight. He wept on the field, happily took a pie in the face from a teammate during a TV interview and beamed throughout a 10-minute news conference.

The smile widened when he was asked about his tears on the field.

"I cried because I was excited," he said. "That's the best moment of my life."

He celebrated until nearly 4 a.m. at the home of teammate and fellow Venezuelan Miguel Cabrera, watching highlights of the game on TV.

The son of a truck driver, Sanchez is a teetotaler and devoted husband. His progress through the minor leagues was slowed by Tommy John surgery in 2003, and until Wednesday night he wasn't well known even in Venezuela.

Florida acquired him last November in the deal that sent Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell to the Boston Red Sox. He went 3-6 this season for Double-A Carolina before joining the Marlins, and in June he became the second starting pitcher in 10 seasons to win his major league debut as a visitor at Yankee Stadium.


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