Sunday, June 10, 2007

Batting for Bragging Rights: Ervin Santana Turns it Around for Angels

The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim are off to one of the best starts in franchise history. Pitching has been the team's strong suit this last few years, but in recent weeks the team's hitting game has improved phenomenally. In last night's game against the St. Louis Cardinals, Angels pitcher Ervin Santana helped his own cause by cracking a fourth-inning 2-RBI double, upon which team announcer Steve Physioc noted that Santana was "batting for bragging rights."

This is interleague play, and since we don't get to see American League pitchers take the batter's box very often, I got a good thrill watching Santana knock in a couple of runs to help himself. Santana was so far 0-5 on the road this year, and despite his victory, he wasn't all that warm to discussing his win over St. Louis:
It should have been an occasion to celebrate for Ervin Santana, and yet the Angels pitcher who recorded his first road victory of the season and first extra-base hit of his career was in a dour mood late Saturday night."

Are you guys happy now?" Santana said to reporters gathered around him in the clubhouse after the Angels' 9-3 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium, prompting one to retort, "Are you?"

"No, I'm not," he said without elaborating.

The pitcher who has grown increasingly weary of discussing the gaping discrepancy between his home and road performances had finally experienced a reversal of fortune by pitching six strong innings to earn his first victory on the road since Sept. 24 at Oakland.

He gave up six hits and three runs, on two home runs, improving to 1-5 with an 8.50 earned-run average on the road. He is 4-1 with a 2.42 ERA at home."It's not bothering me because the same thing I do at home, I do here too," Santana said when asked if the questions about his woes away from Angel Stadium bothered him. "Nothing changes."

Santana (5-6) was more receptive to a discussion of his two-run double that keyed a four-run fourth inning for the Angels, who will go for a sweep of the Cardinals today after producing 19 runs and 35 hits in the first two games of the series.

"You might be DHing when we get home," reliever Scot Shields jokingly told Santana, who picked up the first extra-base hit by an Angels pitcher since Tim Belcher doubled against San Francisco on June 9, 1999.

Noting that he had played shortstop and center field before becoming a pitcher, Santana acknowledged that his double down the left-field line "makes me happy."

There's plenty of reasons to smile for the Angels (40-23), who are off to the best 63-game start in franchise history and became the first major league team this season to reach 40 victories. They have won nine of 11 games and have won all five games against National League opponents, becoming the only undefeated team in interleague play.

"It's not something we can't produce on a consistent basis," said left fielder Garret Anderson, who hit a two-run homer before leaving in the fifth inning when he experienced tightness in his right hip flexor. "We're hitting line drives and hard ground balls and finding some holes and taking the extra base. It's going to apply pressure to the other team."
The proof of the Angels' effectiveness will be tried when they play the other top contenders in the American League (Boston's visiting Anaheim for a three-game series in August). So far, though, it's looking like a pennant year, and perhaps a championship -- and bragging rights for the whole team!

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