San Francisco – Now we know why Paul Molitor changed his mind about starting Ervin Santana in Seattle on Thursday: He wanted Santana’s bat in the lineup against the Giants on Friday.
With the bases loaded and the Giants outfield playing shallow to prevent any bloop hits, Santana punched a Matt Moore fastball to right-center field, inches out of reach for a sliding Denard Span. The blow cleared the bases, put smiles on the faces of his teammates and, supported by Santana’s just-as-impressive pitching, carried the Twins to a 4-0 victory, their fifth in eight games on this 10-game road trip.
“I was just trying to make good contact,” Santana said modestly.
OK, but what were you thinking when the ball left your bat? “Double,” he deadpanned.
It’s not often a pitcher can totally dominate a lineup, limit them to four hits, throw an astonishing 91 pitches to do it — and then care more about his hitting. But Santana (8-3), after throwing his third shutout of 2017, had never had a hit in his three years with the Twins.
Santana had joked before the game about his intention to become the first Twins pitcher in 45 years to hit a home run, but his fourth-inning fly fell about 50 feet short of accomplishing that. His feat was no less extraordinary, though. The last Twins pitcher to drive in three runs in a game was Luis Tiant against Milwaukee on May 28, 1970, three years before the AL adopted the designated hitter.
Since interleague play began in 1997, forcing AL pitchers to bat in the handful of games played in NL parks, only three other AL pitchers have driven in three runs in a game: Baltimore’s Mike Mussina in 1999, Seattle’s Felix Hernandez in 2008 (a grand slam off Johan Santana) and Kansas City’s Chris Young in 2015.
Considering that Santana had only three RBI in his previous 13 seasons combined, the historic inning looked like it would fizzle when Moore walked Jason Castro to load the bases and bring up a .118 career hitter. Robbie Grossman had led off the inning with a single and Max Kepler walked, but Moore retired Eduardo Escobar and Byron Buxton on popups.
Santana wasted no time swinging the bat, taking a cut at a 91-mile-per-hour fastball. “Fastball swinging, that was it,” he said. “Make good contact and see what happens.”
He lofted what would probably be a fly out for a position player. But Span in center and Hunter Pence in right were playing a few dozen feet in front of their normal positions.
“I’m a pitcher,” Santana said with a smile. “I would probably do the same thing.”
Span made a sliding attempt at the ball, but it glanced off his glove, allowing all three runners to score and Santana to jog easily to second base, the 12th hit and third double of his career. The Twins dugout erupted at the unexpected contribution from one of their most popular teammates.
The truth is, though, Santana pitched so well, his hitting heroics weren’t necessary. Brian Dozier singled in Byron Buxton an inning before Santana’s hit, and that was all the 34-year-old righthander would need.
Santana, coming off his worst outing of the season Saturday, simply dominated the Giants, a team he had never faced. San Francisco’s lone threat — a leadoff triple by Aaron Hill in the third inning — was defused with four pitches: Santana got Austin Slater on a routine grounder to Joe Mauer at first, retired Moore on a swinging bunt that stopped on the foul line and ended the inning by getting Span to bounce out to Mauer.