Ervin Santana walked Avisail Garcia on five pitches in the fourth inning on Saturday, then fell behind Jose Abreu 2-0. What began as a nice stroll through Chicago’s batting order suddenly became a struggle.
Santana stalked around the mound, looking disgusted, as catcher Chris Gimenez approached him for a conference.
“He said, ‘Hey, everything is OK, just give me a ground-ball double play,’ ” Santana said. “It sounds simple, but it’s not.”
Santana fired a strike on the next pitch, and he was back in the zone. He got Abreu to fly out, and the White Sox were in big trouble.
Chicago never had another baserunner. Santana’s third start of the season was his most dominant, his most brilliant, his most efficient. The afternoon ended with him doused in ice water by teammate Hector Santiago after pitching the 17th one-hitter in Twins history as they socked the White Sox 6-0 at Target Field on Jackie Robinson Day.
It was Santana’s finest outing since the no-hitter he pitched at Cleveland (giving up an unearned run) on July 27, 2011, while with the Angels.
It’s the earliest shutout by a Twins pitcher since Kevin Tapani did it on April 12, 1991, against California. It’s the first one-hitter by the Twins since May 28, 2011, when Anthony Swarzak, Matt Capps and Alex Burnett combined for one. Scott Baker is the last Twins pitcher to throw one without help, on Aug. 31, 2007, against Kansas City.
Gimenez knew early that Saturday with Santana was going to be enjoyable.
“About the fourth pitch of the first inning,” Gimenez said of the moment he saw what was possible. “He just had been able to throw his slider wherever he wanted, that was the big thing. When he happened to leave one up in the middle, it kind of buckled them.”
The lone Chicago hit came in the third inning when Omar Narvaez got hold of a changeup and slapped it to right field for a clean single.
Gimenez wanted Santana to throw a fastball there, but Santana went with the changeup.
“I joked with him that he had thrown a fastball in, we would have had a no-hitter,” Gimenez said. “It was just a changeup that was left up.”
Gimenez was a little coy when asked to confirm the shake-off.
“It’s the pitch he wants to throw,” Gimenez said. “And if he gets it down it’s a ground ball or a swing and miss.”
Then Gimenez switched back to humor.
“That was his fault completely,” he said. “I didn’t have anything to do with that one.”
Santana threw 107 pitches, 72 of them for strikes. He threw first-pitch strikes to 21 of the 29 batters he faced, including 10 in a row at one point.
He is now 3-0 with a 0.41 ERA. It’s the first time in his career that he’s won his first three starts in a season.
The Twins made things easier for Santana by jumping on White Sox lefthander Jose Quintana for five runs on six hits and a walk in the first inning. The big blow was a two-run triple to right by Max Kepler. Quintana threw 39 pitches in the first inning, and Chicago never recovered.
Kepler was 2-for-4 with two RBI. Robbie Grossman was 2-for-3 with two walks and one RBI.
Santana retired the last 18 batters he faced. And, with innings like the sixth, in which he threw eight pitches, and the eighth, in which he threw seven, Twins manager Paul Molitor felt better about letting Santana complete his masterpiece.
It was about that time Gimenez peeked at the scoreboard.
“I looked up with two outs in the ninth,” Gimenez said, “and I was like. ‘We have given up only one hit.’ I had no idea.”
Santana then got Garcia to ground out to end the game.
“It’s one of those special ones that is going to be marked down in the history books here,” Molitor said. “You don’t see one-hitters every day. Just efficient. Under control.”