ANAHEIM, Calif. – The Twins left California on Thursday after being beaten up by a couple of AL West teams. But they did learn something that will aid in their pursuit of their first postseason since 2010.
Ervin Santana can deliver a dominant outing when they really need one.
The Twins won both games of their six-game road trip with Santana on the mound, including Thursday as he pitched eight strong innings in the Twins’ 3-0 win over the Angels. He has fired out 15⅔ scoreless innings in two starts since the All-Star break.
Twins manager Paul Molitor, normally loquacious, summed up Santana’s afternoon succinctly: “It was sterling,’’ he said.
In eight innings, Santana held the Angels to four hits and one hit batter, while striking out seven. He allowed one hit — one — over his final six innings.
His fastball zipped, hitting 94 miles per hour on the radar gun. His slider darted from bats. He even threw 18 changeups to baffle his opponents. Angels fans had seen it from Santana before, as he went 96-80 in eight seasons with them. Thursday was his first visit since leaving as a free agent following the 2012 season, and he showed them what they have missed.
It helped end a nine-game losing streak against the Angels, and it was the first time the Twins shut them out at Angel Stadium since Aug. 22, 2008. The starter that game was some lefthander named Glen Perkins.
Coincidentally, Perkins went eight innings that day, and Santana went eight innings Thursday before being lifted for Perkins for the ninth. It was a save situation; Perkins had thrown three innings over the previous 17 and blew a save in his last outing.
“Tough to do,’’ Molitor said, “but I think it was the right thing.’’
Santana had thrown 91 pitches at that point and told coaches after the seventh inning that he felt strong.
“I thought I was going to go back out with no problems,’’ he said. “When he told me that, I was like, ‘Uuhhh.’ ”
Perkins pitched a 1-2-3 ninth for his 29th save of the season and the 117th of his career, passing Eddie Guardado for third on the Twins’ all-time list.
Thursday’s game was a pitcher’s duel between Santana and righthander Garrett Richards, with an outbreak of offense with two outs in the fourth inning.
Joe Mauer doubled down the left field line for the Twins’ first hit of the game. Miguel Sano drew a walk. Trevor Plouffe then bashed a 1-2 pitch into the bullpen in left field for all of the scoring in the game. Plouffe drove in seven of the Twins’ 13 runs on the road trip. Just 13 runs on the road trip is why they went 2-4 against the Athletics and the Angels.
And it doesn’t get easier with the AL East-leading New York Yankees coming in for a weekend series, followed by two games against Pittsburgh.
“We knew this wasn’t the road trip we wanted,’’ Plouffe said, “but we get to go back home where we like to play. We’ve had a short memory all season long. So we’ll put this road trip behind us and move forward.’’
Plouffe’s big swing, and Santana’s mound mastery, had Torii Hunter screaming “Happy flight!’’ in the clubhouse after the game.
Not a good road trip, but at least a good ending.
“It was pretty special to control a lineup like that,’’ Molitor said, “and you compound it by the circumstances. The end of a long West Coast trip where we haven’t played particularly well on. You look for those performances to kind of lift your team and elevate you.’’