BALTIMORE - When Ervin Santana is at his best, mesmerizing hitters and recording outs as if on automatic pilot, it's hard to tell for sure how he's doing it.
Take Tuesday's 2-0 shutout of the Orioles at Camden Yards, for instance. Twins manager Paul Molitor said Santana relied on his fastball to ruin Baltimore's timing. Orioles left fielder Trey Mancini said Santana's off-speed pitches were the most effective. Baltimore manager Buck Showalter said Santana's changeup was the killer.
And Santana? He shrugged and smiled and dispensed with the question like it was just another helpless Orioles hitter. The answer, basically: all of the above.
"My breaking ball was pretty good," he grudgingly admitted after becoming the first Twin since Carl Pavano in 2010 to record two shutouts in a season. "I was able to locate my fastball, and then finish them off with the slider."
Move along, folks. Nothing to see here.
Well, except for an extended run of pitching mastery that Twins fans haven't witnessed since another pitcher named Santana a decade ago. Oh wait, maybe you're not witnessing it: Santana is particularly stellar on the road. He's thrown 18 consecutive scoreless innings away from Target Field, and in his four road starts this season, he's given up one run in 29 innings — that's an ERA of 0.31.
Santana surrendered a second-inning single to Welington Castillo and a fifth-inning single to Jonathan Schoop, and he issued a couple of walks, too. But the 34-year-old Twins ace was virtually perfect otherwise, getting the Orioles to take awkward swings and shake their heads in wonder at whatever those pitches were. Only Schoop reached third base, after a third-inning walk.
And once the Twins provided the righthander with a lead, on Byron Buxton's run-scoring single through a drawn-in infield in the fifth, Santana simply became efficiency personified. He needed six pitches to retire Adam Jones, Manny Machado and Mark Trumbo, the heart of Baltimore's order, in the sixth inning, then threw, whew, seven more in the seventh. Santana retired the final 14 hitters he faced — and needed only 42 pitches to do it.
"It was all about Ervin tonight. A lot of quick outs, that's what jumped out to me," Molitor said. "I just thought he was really aggressive with his fastball. You can't throw enough superlatives his way."
Oh, the Orioles tried.
"He's got some weapons," Showalter said after Santana won in Baltimore for the first time since 2011. "He threw his changeup a lot and had a four-seamer that he was running up the zone a little bit. … The slider is about as good as you're going to see."
Added Mancini, who hit three harmless fly balls: "You can do all the preparation you want, but these are the best pitchers in the world."
Orioles starter Dylan Bundy wasn't bad, either, limiting the Twins to six hits in seven innings one night after they exploded for 14 runs and 21 hits. He matched Santana's zeros for four innings, but stumbled in the fifth by walking Jorge Polanco to lead off the inning. He moved to third when Jason Castro executed the hit-and-run by grounding a pitch into right field, and Buxton hit a grounder just out of shortstop J.J. Hardy's reach.
Brian Dozier led off the seventh by lining his sixth homer of the season into the left field seats, giving Santana the luxury of not having to worry about one pitch tying it up. Not that it looks as if Santana ever worries about anything.
"I just try to throw strikes, keep the ball down, and keep us close enough to win," Santana said, seemingly wondering how he does it himself. "That's all I'm trying to do."