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Santana Is a Sunny Delight

Times Staff Writer

Maybe it was some statistical anomaly, or maybe opposing hitters really did see the ball better against Angel right-hander Ervin Santana in natural light, but the numbers were plain as day: Before Saturday, the rookie had an 11.34 earned-run average in four afternoon starts, compared to a 2.79 ERA in 10 night starts.

So much for that trend, which Santana took a sledgehammer to Saturday at Angel Stadium, much the way he shattered his earlier habit of following a brilliant start with a brutal one.

Santana limited baseball’s best offensive team to two base-runners in seven innings before being nicked for two runs in the eighth, and relievers Scot Shields and Francisco Rodriguez nailed down the final four outs of a 4-2 victory over the Boston Red Sox that increased the Angels’ lead over Oakland to 2 1/2 games in the AL West.

Santana retired 11 in a row to start the game, including five of the first six by strikeout -- three with fastballs that hit 95 and 96 mph. The 22-year-old was more crafty than overpowering the rest of the way, mixing his fastball, slider and changeup, hitting spots and creating weak contact from a team that leads the major leagues in batting average, on-base percentage and runs.

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“He’s gone against some of the best teams in the league and pitched extremely well; I really like his composure,” Angel first baseman Darin Erstad said of Santana. “He’s spoiling us. You don’t want to get too far ahead of yourself, but he has incredible stuff. He obviously has a very bright future.”

Santana, who finished with five strikeouts and no walks, improved to 7-5 and is 4-1 with a 2.80 ERA in his last seven starts, two of those wins against the New York Yankees.

“He had a couple of rough starts during the day, but it’s too early to look at trends like that,” Manager Mike Scioscia said. “One trend you have to look at is his last six or seven starts -- he’s been on the money.”

The Angels staked Santana to a 2-0 lead in the third inning when Adam Kennedy was hit by a pitch and stole second, Orlando Cabrera walked, and Erstad hit a run-scoring single off Boston starter Bronson Arroyo. Erstad’s hit kicked away from center fielder Johnny Damon for an error, allowing Cabrera to score.

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Santana pitched out of trouble in the seventh, retiring the heart of the Red Sox order -- David Ortiz (pop to shortstop), Manny Ramirez (grounder to third) and Jason Varitek (fly to left) -- after Edgar Renteria’s leadoff double.

But Santana seemed to lose his edge in the eighth after the Angels’ lengthy two-run rally in the bottom of the seventh, an inning that featured four Boston relievers, singles by Kennedy and Chone Figgins, Cabrera’s sacrifice fly and Chad Bradford’s wild pitch that allowed Figgins to score.

Kevin Millar and Bill Mueller opened the eighth with singles before Tony Graffanino and pinch-hitter Roberto Petagine flied out. Damon singled to load the bases, and Scioscia summoned Shields, who took the loss in the 10th inning Friday night.

Shields gave up a two-run single to Renteria, trimming the Angel lead to 4-2, but bounced back to strike out the dangerous Ortiz with a 77-mph curve. Rodriguez allowed one single in a scoreless ninth for his 28th save.

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“I have a very short memory,” Shields said, explaining how he regrouped after Renteria’s hit. “You have to forget that hit because there’s a bigger hitter behind him. If I don’t get Ortiz and Manny goes deep, they take the lead. My full concentration has to be on Ortiz. If not, I’m going to get beat.”

Santana’s concentration was on the mitt of catcher Jose Molina, and not on the gaudy offensive numbers of the Red Sox, who have baseball’s most prolific one-two punch in Ortiz (31 homers, 107 RBIs) and Ramirez (32 homers, 109 RBIs).

“I didn’t know the numbers; those didn’t matter to me,” said Santana, who, like Ortiz and Ramirez, grew up in the Dominican Republic. “I watched David and Manny when I was younger, but I can’t be thinking, ‘Oh my God, I’m facing David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez.’ I just have to do my job.”

Santana did Saturday, limiting Ortiz and Ramirez to one hit in six at-bats.

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All in a day’s work.


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