CLEVELAND — It hasn’t been his best year by a long stretch, but Angels right-hander Ervin Santana didn’t alter his style one stitch in delivering the first no-hitter of his life on Wednesday.
“I didn’t change anything,” Santana said in the afterglow of a 3-1 decision against the Indians in front of 21,546 at Progressive Field. “That’s how I pitch. Everything just worked out.”
It came with relative ease, requiring only one exceptional defensive play. Second baseman Howard Kendrick went behind the bag to take a hit away from rookie Jason Kipnis, who was leading off the sixth inning. Santana boxed around a hard grounder by the next hitter, Austin Kearns, before throwing him out.
“Howie’s play was the only one that could have been a hit — that’s dominating,” said Angels right fielder Torii Hunter, who doubled and scored the go-ahead run in the sixth inning on a passed ball. “Ervin was amazing today. You love playing behind a guy like that.”
Santana appeared barely to work up a good sweat in throwing 105 pitches, 76 in the strike zone. His fastball command was razor-sharp, and he mixed in enough sliders and changeups to keep hitters off balance in striking out 10 with one walk.
“Everybody dreams about it,” Santana said. “I’ve never done it. It’s a dream come true. I have to enjoy it.”
This is a man of few words or visible emotions, as relaxed and laid-back as a tourist on a hammock in his native Dominican Republic.
But the heart of a competitor clearly beats within, and Santana went for it with some fire, striking out five of the last eight men he faced. The no-hitter was finalized when center fielder Peter Bourjos squeezed Michael Brantley’s fly ball.
Santana, whose wild pitch yielded an unearned run in the first after an error by shortstop Erick Aybar, faced only two hitters over the minimum.
The pace was swift and decisive, Santana keeping his defense alert as he worked beautifully in tandem with catcher Bobby Wilson.
“He’s always that way — no stress, nice and easy,” Wilson said after handling Santana’s masterpiece in his 10th start of the season behind the plate. “I didn’t see any difference in his demeanor, other than going after hitters more.
“We talked about attacking hitters. ‘Don’t give them too much credit. You’re here for a reason. Obviously, you have the stuff. Trust it and go after guys.’
“That’s what Ervin did, and if he keeps doing it, he’ll have a better chance every time he goes out there.”
Angels manager Mike Scioscia, who, in his playing days, caught no-hitters by Fernando Valenzuela and Kevin Gross with the Dodgers, applauded the poise of his battery and the quality of the pitcher-catcher relationship that he labels the foundation of any club.
“Those guys did an incredible job of mixing speeds and pitches,” Scioscia said. “In the game, there were adjustments. Those two guys talk every inning about who’s coming up. You’re just trying to win the game.
“Ervin’s fastball command was as good as I’ve seen since he’s been in the big leagues. He pitched inside well. Those guys had a beautiful game plan, from pitch one to 105. Part of that is you’re looking for that cherry on top, and Ervin delivered it.”
Indians manager Manny Acta watched co-aces Dan Haren and Jered Weaver work the first two games of the series, raving about the Angels’ rotation. Then came the grand finale.
“He’s always had good stuff,” Acta said of Santana. “I had him in winter ball before, and all that. He’s always had good stuff, but today he was just able to lock up those lefties. He always back-doored Travis [Hafner] with that slider for strike one or strike two, and he had a very good fastball. He was aggressive in the zone.
“I don’t know how early I could pinpoint no-hit stuff, because we see [Justin] Verlander quite often, and he always has it from inning one.”
It was the ninth no-hitter in franchise history and the first solo no-hitter by an Angels pitcher since Mike Witt’s perfect game against Texas on the final day of the 1984 season.
Mark Langston and Witt combined on a no-hitter in 1990 against Seattle. Nolan Ryan threw his first four no-hitters for the Angels. Weaver and Jose Arredondo combined on an eight-inning no-hitter in a loss to the Dodgers.
Santana was behind by a run as late as the fifth inning, which might have worked to his advantage in one way.
“Giving up that run in the first kind of took the pressure off,” Wilson said. “I wasn’t even thinking no-hitter. I was thinking, `Let’s keep this right here and get some runs.'”
Unfazed by Aybar’s error on Ezequiel Carrera’s grounder leading off the first inning and the run it created on a slider that evaded Wilson for a wild pitch, Santana set about the business of mowing down Indians hitters.
The Angels drew even in the fifth against southpaw David Huff (1-1) when Bourjos tripled off the left-field wall and scored on Mike Trout’s sacrifice fly.
Hunter opened the sixth with a double to center, taking third on Kendrick’s line-drive single to left center. With two outs, Joe Smith replaced Huff, and catcher Carlos Santana let a pitch get away from him for a passed ball, allowing Hunter to score with a head-first slide.
In the ninth, Bourjos singled home Kendrick, who’d walked and stolen second, for an insurance run against Chris Perez.
Santana had retired 15 in a row when Kipnis stroked a bullet headed toward center field leading off the sixth. Kendrick darted over and gloved it with a back-handed stab, throwing out Kipnis as first baseman Mark Trumbo dug it out on the short hop.
“I tried to hustle up the middle and get a glove on it,” Kendrick said. “Then I tried to get something on the throw. Trumbo made a nice play.
“It feels good to have something to do with a performance like that. That’s the best I’ve ever seen Ervin. His fastball was on the corners, he threw the changeup to lefties and that slider was nasty.”
Santana’s play and a strikeout finished the sixth, and Santana rolled through the seventh on two grounders and a strikeout of Hafner.
Santana struck out the side in the eighth, with Chisenhall drawing the lone Indians walk.
Santana had taken a no-hitter into the sixth inning in his previous start in Baltimore, losing it on a one-out double by Blake Davis.
A 17-game winner last season and a 2008 All-Star, Santana was 3-8 on June 21, mired in a funk. He has moved to 6-8 with three wins in his past five starts, gaining momentum along the way.
It crested on a warm Ohio day.
“In the seventh or eighth,” Santana said when asked when he began thinking about a no-hitter. “It was a normal game. I kept my mind on Bobby’s glove.”
Nice and simple game plan, very well executed.