Santana's shutout paves a new road

Times Staff Writer

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Angels pitcher Ervin Santana insists he doesn't live in the past. Which is a good thing because the past wasn't always good to him.

"I just forget what happened last year," said Santana, who lost 10 of 11 decisions on the road last season. "I'm not focused on what I did bad before."

He doesn't like to look too far into the future either, because he doesn't know what that holds. So that leaves the present.

And the present has suddenly become very good.

Take Monday, for instance. Pitching in a stadium where he'd never won against a team he hadn't beaten in two seasons, Santana responded with a dazzling four-hit shutout to beat the Kansas City Royals, 4-0, running his record to 6-0 and dropping his earned-run average to 2.02.

But 20 minutes after coming off the mound, Santana was refusing to rest on those laurels. The present, it seems, is fleeting.

"We have a lot more starts to go," he said after his second career complete game and second career shutout. "I have to keep it up and keep working hard.

"I don't try to throw perfect games. I just try to do my best."

His best was plenty good against the Royals as Santana struck out nine and did not walk a batter, retiring 17 of 18 batters over one stretch and hitting 96 mph on the radar gun against the final hitter, whom he struck out with his 97th pitch of the game. And just 28 of those pitches missed the strike zone.

"It's fun when he's attacking the zone," catcher Jeff Mathis said of Santana.

"I feel like I can call any pitch and he's going to put it where I want it."

Santana also ran his scoreless streak to 15 innings while joining teammate Joe Saunders at 6-0, giving the Angels only the eighth pair of teammates on any team since 1920 to start a season by winning their first six decisions.

On Monday, Mathis called for Santana's changeup more frequently than he has this season and that, plus a darting fastball, kept the Royals off balance all night.

Kansas City never got more than one runner on in an inning and had only one runner reach scoring position, when Mark Grudzielanek doubled to lead off the fourth. But Grudzielanek stayed there as Santana struck out two of the next three hitters.

As good as Santana was, though, Royals starter Brett Tomko was arguably better, holding the Angels to a pair of harmless singles and two walks over seven innings, striking out seven.

"We were both doing our jobs," Santana said. "We were waiting for one mistake. And for the other guy to make the mistake."

Tomko's mistake might have been coming out of the game, which he did after 96 pitches -- because two innings later Erick Aybar opened the ninth with a triple off reliever Ramon Ramirez (0-1), then scored the only run his Dominican winter league teammate would need when Casey Kotchman ended a two-for-28 skid against the Royals with a soft single to center.

"I was trying to get on base, make contact," said Aybar, who did better than that by driving the ball to the wall in center.

Garret Anderson followed an out later with a booming home run to right, and two pitches after that Brandon Wood homered, giving Santana more than enough cushion.

When the Angels' right-hander put an exclamation point on the victory by striking out Jose Guillen to end the game, he threw both arms in the air and broke into a facial expression he didn't use much last season: a smile.

"It feels way, way better," he said.


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