The standing ovation was loud and long. If this was Ervin Santana’s farewell, if his first season with the Twins is finished no matter what happens this weekend, next week and beyond, at least fans at Target Field seemed happy to forgive and forget.
“He came out very strong after the layoff in the first half, ran into a stretch where things didn’t go particularly well, then he turned it up a notch in September, there’s no doubt about that,” manager Paul Molitor said of the 32-year-old Dominican, the Twins’ prize free-agent signing of last winter. “I’m not sure how he feels about how everything transpired this season. I’m sure it’s been challenging for him, but he’s found ways to move on.”
So have fans, apparently. Santana, suspended for the first half of the season after failing a test for performance-enhancing drugs in the spring, turned in seven consecutive quality starts to close the season, posting a 1.62 ERA since Aug. 30. Whatever residual grumbling lingered over Santana’s absence for three months, there was no trace of it as he walked off the field after seven strong innings Friday night in the 3-1 loss to Kansas City.
“He’s been embraced here. [It was] a nice ovation when he came off the field today. People have put things behind them,” Molitor said. “I’m sure he’ll come back hungry and ready to go.”
Santana tipped his cap to the announced crowd of 31,534, and said afterward that he enjoyed the ovation.
“It was pretty good. Fans were appreciative,” Santana said after likely wrapping up a half-season in which he went 7-5 with a 4.00 ERA. “They were very good, everything they’ve done for us.”
He threw 110 pitches Friday, giving up four hits, three of them doubles. In fact, Alcides Escobar’s single to lead off the eighth inning snapped an odd streak for Santana: He gave up seven hits over 13 innings, all of them doubles.
He wanted to stay in longer, and got Molitor to agree with his suggestion that he stay in until he gave up a hit.
“I told them, give me the leadoff hitter. If he gets a base hit, take me out,” Santana said.
That’s what happened. “I’m disappointed,” the righthander said. “It’s tough. I was pitching pretty good.”
It doesn’t appear as it will matter, but Santana is prohibited from taking part in the playoffs this year as part of his suspension. However, tiebreakers are part of the regular season, so if the Twins do end up in a 163rd and/or 164th game as part of a tiebreaker for the final wild card, the righthander could still be of help next week, and Molitor said before the game that “there’s a chance” Santana would be called upon Monday in some capacity.
In scramble mode
When it became clear that the Twins might need to play a tiebreaker game Monday at Houston, Mike Herman made an awkward phone call to a luxury hotel in Texas.
It went something like: Um, I need to reserve 75 rooms for two nights from now. And we probably won’t need them.
“I don’t know how they find the rooms. That’s on them,” said Herman, the Twins director of team travel. “But they host a lot of baseball teams, so they know that I don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Yes, the uncertainty of the regular season’s final weekend, and whether the season will be extended longer, is what makes pennant races thrilling for fans and players alike. But for the guy in charge of logistics, of potentially moving an entire team and all its support staff across the country on a moment’s notice?
“For me, it’s a nightmare,” Herman said, “but it’s also the most fun thing ever.”
Herman has spent the past few days lining up hotel rooms, buses and equipment trucks in Houston and Anaheim, Calif., just in case, plus New York, the site of the wild-card game.
Not taking it easy
The Royals have a 93-67 record, tied with Toronto for the best in the American League. Home-field advantage in a potential ALCS is at stake this weekend, in other words.
But that’s not Kansas City manager Ned Yost’s biggest goal for the weekend.
“Do we want it? Yeah, we want to have the best record. But we want to make sure the guys are ready on Thursday, that’s the biggest priority,” Yost said. “The reason we want home-field advantage is for our fans. We feel like we can win anywhere.”
He pointed out the Royals didn’t have home-field advantage in last year’s playoffs, yet made the World Series, where they did have it — and lost.