Reporting from Cleveland — As the ball dropped into center fielder Peter Bourjos’ glove, Ervin Santana thrust his arms into the air and looked for someone to hug.
But the man he most wanted to embrace wasn’t there. So Santana honored him the best way he knew how.
“I want to dedicate this no-hitter to my cousin, who just passed away,” an emotional Santana, his eyes red and his voice cracking, said after throwing a no-hitter against the Cleveland Indians in the Angels’ 3-1 win Wednesday afternoon.
Santana cousin’s Ruben Corporan died in the Dominican Republic last month and the pitcher quietly returned home for his funeral.
That, however, is all the pitcher would say.
“I don’t want to talk about that,” he whispered, staring at the carpet in front of his locker an hour after the game. To his right sat a table topped with three bottles of cheap champagne chilling in plastic Dubble Bubble buckets.
But then Santana didn’t have to say much; his performance spoke for him. Aside from a first-inning error and an eighth-inning walk, the right-hander didn’t allow a runner to reach base. And he got better as the game went on, getting five of the last seven outs on strikeouts and throwing 105 pitches, 76 for strikes.
It was the first complete-game no-hitter by an Angel since Mike Witt’s perfect game in 1984 and the third in the major leagues this season.
It was also the first no-hitter in the 18-year history of Progressive Field, where Santana made an ignominious major league debut in 2005 by giving up a triple, double, single and home run to the first four batters he faced.
“Excitement,” Santana responded when asked how he felt when Bourjos pulled up under Michael Brantley’s game-ending fly, only the fourth ball the Indians hit to the outfield. “Lots of guys get to five, six innings. But that’s when things get a little complicated.
“I’ll just have to enjoy this.”
But he will have to enjoy it without his cousin. The two were close, more like twin brothers than cousins, a family friend said. So when Corporan died after a sudden illness last month, Santana was devastated.
Yet for all the emotion involved, even Santana knew what he did Wednesday was cause for celebration, not grief. As the pitcher left a news conference, former teammate Orlando Cabrera, now an Indian, rushed over to shake his hand.
Workers in the bowels of the stadium called out their congratulations, with Santana returning a toothy smile each time.
“There was excitement,” Angels Manager Mike Scioscia said. “When you see a guy getting within nine outs, then six outs, then three outs — your focus is on winning the games. And past that you’re looking for that cherry on that, which Ervin delivered.
“It’s certainly exciting. It’s fun to watch.”
Lost in that excitement, though, was the fact that Santana, who held the Orioles hitless into the sixth inning his last time out, had little margin for error. He trailed after Cleveland scored a first-inning run on an error, stolen base and wild pitch. And the Angels didn’t get their first hit until the fourth.
An inning later they got their first run on Bourjos’ triple and Mike Trout’s scoring fly ball, then went ahead to stay in the sixth when Torii Hunter doubled and alertly scored on a passed ball.
After that, even Indians fans in the sun-splashed afternoon crowd of 21,546 began to rally to behind Santana, who struck out a season-high 10 batters in beating Cleveland for the first time in his career.
“It was pretty cool. I was out there in the ninth thinking, ‘Just don’t screw this up,’ ” said Bourjos, who rushed the ball to Santana after the final out.
“It’s something special. He’s never going to forget that.”