Three homers power Angels over Twins
Santana tosses six strong innings for victory; bats come alive
MINNEAPOLIS -- Empowered at the plate and on the mound, the Angels notched their third consecutive win at the Twins' expense on Thursday.
Torii Hunter punctuated his return to the Metrodome with a solo homer, and Gary Matthews Jr. and Mike Napoli also went deep. After dealing 96-mph fastballs for six innings, Ervin Santana watched Francisco Rodriguez preserve his 5-4 victory by striking out Michael Cuddyer for the final out with two Twins aboard.
Having saved Santana's win, K-Rod endorsed the 25-year-old right-hander as a candidate for bigger and better things down the road.
"He's got the stuff to be a Cy Young [Award] winner," K-Rod said. "He's got a great fastball, great slider, great changeup. He's got everything to be a 20-game winner, all the tools. He just has to relax and pitch.
"People forget he won 16 games [in 2006] and 12 games the year before that. All they remember is last year [when Santana fell to 7-14]. They forget how much talent he has."
Asked if he's close to recapturing that 16-win form, Santana said he's "getting to it," adding, "I'm not missing anything now. I just have to keep my focus, keep working ... and relax. That's it. Don't put too much pressure on myself, don't give credit to anybody."
Manager Mike Scioscia is an unabashed Santana fan.
"Ervin's problems last year were based on mechanics and stuff," Scioscia said, refusing to buy the theory that Santana was afflicted last season by a mental road block. "When he's in his mechanics, he's going to keep going. He had great life on all his pitches, good rhythm, tempo, worked quick. He was decisive with what he wanted to do."
Whipping through five scoreless innings while giving up only one hit, Santana gave up two runs on three hits in the sixth and turned it over to the bullpen. Darren Oliver and Justin Speier each yielded a run before K-Rod closed the door, erasing Cuddyer after walking Joe Mauer intentionally.
"I got on top of a breaking ball," K-Rod said of the pitch that left Cuddyer flailing at air.
The Angels produced five homers in the series compared to one by the Twins, whose big bopper, Justin Morneau, was 0-for-13 in the series.
Hunter's first homer as an Angel, a drive into the seats in left-center, was met by sparse applause from a crowd of 17,084. He had been greeted with several standings ovations on Opening Day and again the following night when he was presented his seventh Rawlings Gold Glove, all earned as the Twins' center fielder.
"The first two days, we had ceremonies and my rhythm was broke," Hunter said, having started the season 0-for-8 with a sore elbow from a pitch delivered by Juan Rincon. "It was very emotional for me, seeing all these people I love that I left behind.
"But then I got two hits [Wednesday], and the homer today, and now I'm ready to go to L.A. ready to go."
Hunter's debut in front of the home folks arrives on Friday night against the Rangers at Angel Stadium.
Napoli followed Hunter's shot with another rocket to left against reliever Brian Bass, the second homer of the season for the Angels' catcher.
Howard Kendrick jump-started the offense when he slashed an opposite-field double to open the third against Kevin Slowey, scoring on Maicer Izturis' single through the middle.
With two outs, Matthews -- playing right field with Vladimir Guerrero getting a turn at DH -- unloaded his first homer of the season, a two-run blast to right-center.
"No one really likes DHing," Matthews said, a point firmly made by Guerrero and Garret Anderson this spring. "To me, it's easier to stay in the flow of the game when you're out on the field. It's easier to stay sharp, keep all your senses flowing, rather than trying to turn it on and off."
Effortlessly throwing 96-mph heaters, Santana held the three-run lead until the sixth. Carlos Gomez led off with a bunt single, advancing when third baseman Chone Figgins' effort play turned into a throwing error.
Mauer's two-strike double down the right-field line delivered Gomez. Mauer scored on Morneau's sacrifice fly.
Darren Oliver picked up for Santana, and after three singles and a sacrifice fly by Mauer produced a run, Justin Speier finished the seventh by retiring Cuddyer.
When Jason Kubel lifted a two-out homer to right in the eighth against Speier, it was a one-run game.
The closer, utilizing a more compact delivery, issued a one-out full-count walk to Matt Tolbert after thinking he had him struck out on a 2-2 pitch on the black.
Tolbert moved into scoring position as K-Rod was in the process of striking out Gomez on three pitches. Mauer, with two doubles and two RBIs, was walked, a rare move by manager Mike Scioscia.
"Cuddyer had just hit a bullet to left off Justin and had some good at-bats," Scioscia said. "You know Mauer's going to put the ball in play. Right then, I liked the [Cuddyer] matchup a little better.
cuddy "Probably Frankie's biggest pitch was a 3-1 breaking ball to get to 3-2, and he finally got the chance to put him away."
The three homers and K-Rod's theatrics notwithstanding, Santana's impressive effort, given his well-documented road struggles last season, was the story of the day.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.