Kole Calhoun sprinted in vain to the right-field wall in pursuit of a foul ball off Nelson Cruz’s bat. Hector Santiago wanted to give him a moment to catch his breath in Sunday’s seventh inning at Safeco Field, so he called out his catcher, Geovany Soto, and made conversation: What should we do here?
Soto said to throw a fastball inside in the 1-and-2 count. Santiago said he suspected Cruz would cheat on it, swinging early, and pound it somewhere. So he threw a curveball, and Cruz fouled it off. Soto ran out to the mound, this time on his own volition. Throw the fastball inside, he said, this time more forcefully.
Santiago did it, and Cruz hit it hard to right field, 361 feet. Calhoun snared it on the warning track, and Santiago locked eyes with Soto, grinning. He had just come the closest he’d be all game to allowing a run and escaped unscathed — one of the only suspenseful moments in the Angels’ 3-0 victory over Seattle.
Santiago had carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning of his dominant outing without knowing it. He said he only realized following the sixth, after he failed to field ex-Angel Shawn O’Malley’s bunt down the first base line.
“It sucks the way I lost it,” Santiago said. “Those are the plays where I’m like, ‘Thank you very much. You’re out.’ ”
The Mariners had only one more hit, a seventh-inning single through to center from fellow ex-Angel Chris Iannetta. They had entered the weekend series against the Angels as the American League West’s leader, winners of 21 of 34 games in 2016.
The Angels had been losers of 21 of 34, the same number, but they swept Seattle and dropped the Mariners out of the division lead.
“We didn’t play a perfect series, obviously,” Angels Manager Mike Scioscia said. “But we did enough right.”
Santiago nailed Nori Aoki with a 93-mph sinker in the ribs to begin the Mariners’ half inning of play. He proceeded to retire the next 11 men he faced, until he walked Robinson Cano in the fourth inning and plunked Cruz with a cut fastball.
Again, he settled to retire the next four men he faced, aided by a wonderful play into the hole by Gregorio Petit to end the fifth. Petit would make another superb play to end the seventh, ranging right from his shifted position to nab Kyle Seager’s up-the-middle grounder.
Through seven, Santiago had thrown 105 pitches. He expected his day to be done. When he arrived in the dugout, Scioscia told him to go right back out.
Santiago finished the eighth with ease, needing only 10 pitches, and Joe Smith struck out two in the ninth to secure the unlikely sweep — after Santiago gave Scioscia a “little look,” like a smirk, a tacit request to handle one last inning. It did not work.
Santiago worked with far more velocity than he had in his previous start, regaining almost 4 mph he had lost. He even reared back to hit 96 mph in the second inning, after averaging less than 90 the last time out.
“You guys doubted me,” Santiago told reporters afterward.
He claimed it was all a result of his intent to throw more sinkers the last time out. The sinking motion, he said, ended up imparting itself on many of his pitches, taking away their pace.
Soto said the fastball Santiago wielded Sunday was a “weapon.”
“When he’s on his game, that’s what you’re gonna get,” the catcher said. “He’s gonna come after you with everything he’s got.”