CHICAGO – Ervin Santana produced almost an exact replica of his Opening Day brilliance on Sunday — two hits, two walks and a win in six whisper-quiet innings — and raised the question: When he’s pitching like this, can anybody hit him?
Turns out: Yes.
“I can,” Miguel Sano said confidently after Santana pitched the Twins to a 4-1 victory over the White Sox, and their first 5-1 start to a season since 2010. “One time in spring training, I hit a homer off him.”
These days, Sano’s homers are put to use in support of the Twins’ ace, not against him, and they’re a sight to behold. The 23-year-old slugger drove a 96-mph fastball 410 feet into a howling wind on Sunday, landing it seven rows up in the center field seats to give the Twins a four-run cushion. “I’d have liked to see that ball if the wind was blowing out,” Twins manager Paul Molitor said. “That ball was smoked.”
Jorge Polanco’s wasn’t exactly lightly basted, either: The 23-year-old shortstop cranked his first homer of the year into left-center in the seventh inning, one pitch after another blast succumbed to the gale from the east. “Under normal conditions would have been a homer,” Molitor said. “The wind carried it foul, but he came back on the next pitch.”
The White Sox weren’t able to do that, or much of anything, against Santana, who had never before in his 13-year career collected a win in his first two starts of a season. Mixing mostly sliders with his now-you-see-it fastball — “I didn’t have a changeup today,” he shrugged — Santana didn’t allow solid contact all day. Only once did a Chicago base- runner advance as far as second base. The only surprising part of his performance, in fact, was its length.
Santana was pulled after six innings, having thrown 87 pitches. Caution now will pay off late, Molitor said.
“I’m not too enthused about the prospect of him going much past 100 [pitches], if at all. Rather than having him start the inning and maybe having something created, we went with the clean inning,” Molitor said of his decision. “[With] Six months of baseball ahead of us, to try to push a guy for an extra inning in the second start — that’s where we ended up landing.”
The bullpen wasn’t nearly as sharp as Santana, but the home runs gave them room to endure a little sloppiness. Chicago put runners on base in each of the final three innings, though the only run the Sox scored may have had to do more with super glue than pitch location. After Ryan Pressly rescued Taylor Rogers from a two-on, one-out jam in the seventh, closer Brandon Kintzler tried to do the same for Matt Belisle, who loaded the bases with a couple of walks and a hit.
But the nail on Kintzler’s right index finger is cracked, and the closer had glued it shut — a little too aggressively, it turned out. “I put too much on there, and I couldn’t feel the ball on the tip of my finger,” Kintzler said. “That pitch got away from me.”
It hit Avisail Garcia in the ribs, actually, forcing in Chicago’s lone run. Kintzler came back to strike out Yolmer Sanchez to end the inning, and he got through the ninth unscathed, except for the blood on his finger.
He wasn’t too concerned about it after the game, not with reason to celebrate.
“You can’t ask for a better start to the season,” Kintzler said. “We sweep the first series, then we win our first road series, and now we get a day off to enjoy it. This is the start we told ourselves we could make happen.”