Reporting from St. Petersburg, Fla.
It may not be such an odd season for Angels' right-hander Ervin Santana after all — which would be a very good thing for the team and the pitcher.
Santana, you see, has had an up-and-down career during his six seasons in the major leagues, averaging more than 16 wins in even-numbered years but posting a losing record overall in odd-numbered seasons.
So when he started this spring 0-3 with a 5.51 ERA, it looked as if 2011 would continue the trend.
Form, however, took a detour Friday when Santana turned in his best effort of the young season, allowing just one earned run and four hits in six innings to cool off the red-hot Tampa Bay Rays, 8-5.
"Really, I didn't think about that," Santana said of his roller-coaster record. "I stayed positive all the time and forgot about the past. Sometimes wins and losses are not an indication of how well you pitched."
The number of runs your team scores for you aren't a good indication either — though they sure can help your record. In Santana's last two starts, the Angels were shut out while he was on the mound, and he lost both times. Friday they pounded All-Star David Price for five runs and a career-worst 12 hits in 4 1/3 innings — and Santana won for the first time since mid-September.
"It's about time," he said with a smile. "About time."
His teammates even picked him up after he made his lone mistake of the game: giving up a two-out, two-strike, three-run home run to Matt Joyce after an error extended the Rays' third inning. But in their next at-bat, the Angels responded with three runs of their own.
The game-tying homer, a 422-foot blast, came from rookie Mark Trumbo, which seems only fitting. Because if Santana forgets what year it is when he takes the mound, Trumbo has a similar amnesia when he gets in the batter's box — especially against a pitcher with Price's reputation.
"I know who it is. But if you're going to let that fluster you, you're probably in the wrong spot," said Trumbo, who leads the Angels and American League rookies with 13 runs batted in. "Some guys may have a little better stuff than others. But you start thinking like that, then you're probably already defeated before you get in there."
Defeat, by the way, is something the Rays hadn't experienced in a week. But their modest five-game winning streak was buried under a 17-hit Angel attack that saw three players collect three hits each and three others, including Trumbo, get two apiece.
Add Santana's effort, a couple of sterling plays at first by Trumbo, and another highlight-reel catch in center field by Peter Bourjos, and even some of the Rays found themselves applauding afterward.
"They do everything. They play the whole game," Joyce said of the Angels. "Their defense is great. They swing the bats really well; we had our best pitcher going, and they still put up a lot of hits and a lot of runs.
"They played the whole game, and it seems like they play really well against us."
Nothing odd about that.