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CLEVELAND -- He was born Johan Ramon Santana. He changed his name in 2003 to avoid confusion with the Johan Santana who was just starting to collect Cy Young votes with the Twins.
Ervin Santana, then an Angels prospect toiling away in Class A ball, wanted to create his own identity. You could say, eight years later, that he certainly made a name for himself on a splendid Wednesday afternoon here at Progressive Field, where he tossed the 229th no-hitter of the modern era and the first by an Angels pitcher in nearly three decades.
But in the wake of his outstanding outing against the Indians in a 3-1 victory, Santana, even when surrounded by champagne bottles chilling in Dubble Bubble buckets by his locker, didn't have a celebratory air about him. He was happy, certainly, but he also seemed to wear a reflective layer just below the surface. One that revealed itself when he used several of the few words he spoke at his postgame news conference to mention a lost family member.
"I just want to dedicate this no-hitter," he said, "to my cousin, who just passed away."
The cousin's name, Santana revealed later, was Ruben. But that was all Santana would share, his eyes welling up when the topic was broached.
That's the side of Santana you don't necessarily see when he's pumping the strike zone with fastballs and making hitters unsuccessfully lunge at his slider. He's a jokester one moment, a weeper the next and a proud pitcher, through and through.
"Ervin's very humble," pitching coach Mike Butcher said. "He's emotional, but in a good way. He truly appreciates the game of baseball and works extremely hard at it."
The work has sometimes been uphill for Santana in what has been a strange season. The 6-8 record, any Angels member will argue, is no indication of the way he's pitched, and manager Mike Scioscia has spent the last two months spreading word that Santana has been pitching much better than his numbers indicate.
Consider what transpired here to be proof positive. The Indians had two baserunners against Santana because of shortstop Erick Aybar's first-inning error that allowed leadoff man Ezequiel Carrera to reach and Santana's eighth-inning walk of Lonnie Chisenhall that got Aybar off the hook before anybody could talk about him blowing a perfect game.
"Ervin's very humble. He's emotional, but in a good way. He truly appreciates the game of baseball and works extremely hard at it."
-- Angels pitching coach Mike Butcher, on Ervin Santana
This will go down as the game's first non-shutout no-hitter since Houston's Darryl Kile tossed one against the Mets on Sept. 8, 1993, but blame catcher Bobby Wilson's passed ball for that distinction (and Scioscia razzed Wilson about it plenty postgame). Santana attacked a toothless Tribe offense with two pitches that he commanded wonderfully, erasing any lingering demons over what transpired in this very building in his Major League debut.
"Do we have to talk about that one?" Scioscia said.
Yes, yes, let's talk about it.
It was May 17, 2005. Santana was 22, only two years into his new name. More to the point, he was only 19 1/3 innings into his Triple-A career when the Angels, dealing with Kelvim Escobar's elbow issues, called him up and tossed him out there against the Tribe. The first four batters went like this: triple, double, single, home run. The kid was about five minutes into the Majors, and he'd already given up the cycle.
"He was," said teammate Maicer Izturis, who was on the Angels' bench that day and at third for the no-no, "so young."
Young and unpolished. But Scioscia remembered how well and how quickly Santana recovered from that dubious debut. His next start, after all, was a complete-game shutout of the White Sox.
"He used that first start here in Cleveland as a stepping board," Scioscia said. "It shows that he adapts."
The adaptations have been necessary quite often in Santana's inconsistent career. He won 28 games over his first two seasons, then was 7-14 with a 5.76 ERA in 2007. In '08, he looked like the Angels' ascending ace, winning 16 games in 32 starts and finishing sixth in the Cy Young voting. But he followed that up with an 8-8 record and a 5.03 ERA in '09. Last year, he was 17-10 with a 3.92 ERA; this season, he's 6-8 with a 3.47 ERA, which shows you how fluky the won-loss totals can be.
"Last year, he won 17 games, and he's pitching every bit as good or better than he did last year," Butcher said. "There's been a little bit more focus on his part. He's a little bit more deceptive right now. It's just focus, it's just one pitch at a time. He's just doing a tremendous job. He was fun to watch today."
Other than relaying that he and Wilson were on the "same page" all afternoon, Santana had surprisingly little to say about his accomplishment. Or maybe that's not so surprising, if you know how humble and low-key he can be.
Even when asked if this achievement offers him the kind of distinction he sought when he changed his name (hey, Johan's never tossed a no-no), Santana wasn't so sure.
"Maybe," he said. "Maybe not."