Angels, Santana are looking to finish strong
SEP 22, 2012 12:22a ET
If his career in an Angels uniform is indeed about to end, he can be soothed by the fact he's going out with his best stuff.
In a season of inconsistency and unmet expectations, Santana is finishing with a flourish. He's throwing strikes, mixing his pitches, keeping hitters off balance and winning games.
He's also in the last year of a four-year, $30 contract he signed with the Angels in 2009. There's a club option for $13 million next season, but the Angels can also buy him out for a paltry $1 million.
In effect, Santana is pitching to keep his job.
"I don't even think about that," he said late Friday night. "I just think about right now. When they give me a chance to pitch, I'm going to pitch and do my job. If it's going to happen, it's going to happen."
His seven-inning, two-hit, 11-strikeout effort in a 6-1 Angels win over the Chicago White Sox might give the Angels pause. The victory put them 3½ games out in the American League wild card race with 11 to play.
Their fate has been out of their hands for several days. Their best and only hope is to win and hope the teams ahead of them -- the Baltimore Orioles and Oakland A's -- lose.
"We have our backs against the wall," manager Mike Scioscia said. "We know the situation. But some teams are going to come back to you, and you want to be in position to take advantage of it. We need to win ballgames.
"I don't think there's anybody in that room that's tight. There's nobody in that room that doesn't understand the situation."
Certainly, Santana does. He gave up a leadoff home run to Alejandro De Aza -- his major-league-leading 36th home run allowed this season -- then retired 21 of the next 23 batters he raced.
Santana, who has given up two earned runs or fewer in six of his past seven starts, credited an effective changeup that kept the White Sox off balance. He said he threw 13 of them compared to the five or six he would normally throw.
"I had a good feel for it today and mixed it up with my fastball and my slider," he said. "I was throwing it for strikes, and for balls, too."
Despite his struggles -- and there have been plenty of them this season -- he insisted he's not pitching with anything to prove. After eight seasons with the Angels and 96 wins, he feels he's shown enough.
"I don't have to prove anything," he said. "I just have to believe in myself, trust my stuff and pitch."
If he'd done that all season, who knows where the Angels would be? Rather than fighting to advance to the playoffs, they might be in better position.
"There's a lot of ifs that a every team can talk about," Scioscia said. "For what we put into our starting rotation and how much weight they carry, there's no doubt it's affected where we're at at this point in the season."
All they can do now is finish strong and hope for the best. The same goes for Santana.