ANAHEIM, Calif. – The events that transpired Wednesday night at Angel Stadium were so far out of the range of normal they almost defied belief.
An umpire took a face full of cleats from Angels outfielder Torii Hunter on a play at the plate and was forced to leave the game.
The Cleveland Indians started a pitcher who was arrested in January for identity fraud in his native Dominican Republic and later served a three-week suspension from Major League Baseball for lying about his age and true identity. The former Fausto Carmona took the mound as Roberto Hernandez, but the results might make him consider another name next time.
And perhaps strangest of all, Angels right-hander Ervin Santana pitched arguably his best game in almost two months, beating the Indians 8-4 and giving the Angels their first series win since late July.
The Angels picked up a game on first-place Texas in the American League West and gained ground on Tampa Bay and Oakland, two of the four teams ahead of them in the wild-card race. Considering their struggles of late, there’s no time like the present to begin moving forward.
“I’m looking at how we did,” manager Mike Scioscia said when someone offered an updated standings report. “We have a lot of baseball ahead of us. Our focus has to be on us.”
Certainly, Santana was a favorite topic. He gave up just one run in seven innings and won his sixth game of the season. It was perhaps his finest start since he went eight innings against the Dodgers and allowed two earned runs.
Any pitcher will admit that an early lead creates a comfort zone, and Santana had one. The Angels scored five runs in the second inning with the help of several horrendous fielding mistakes by the Indians, and they tagged on one more each in the third and fourth, including Mike Trout’s 22nd homer. Hernandez, who was making his first start for Cleveland since he was reinstated from his suspension, was knocked around for six innings, giving up eight runs and 10 hits.
And while the Angels were rolling offensively, Santana was quietly stringing together some impressive innings. He gave up just two hits through five innings and didn’t allow a run until the sixth on a one-out double by Asdrubal Cabrera.
“He took the mound with purpose in the first inning,” Scioscia said. “I know the lead obviously helps you to have a broader canvas and do more things and not worry if you miss a spot, which lets you pitch a little freer. But Ervin has been making strides forward, and we need him.”
Santana said it was just business as usual, but who would believe that? He has been working on several changes between starts and finally looked comfortable on the mound.
“Nothing different,” he said of this performance compared to others. “I’m just trying to do the same thing. I’ve been working on the same stuff, trying to keep the ball down, and I did that tonight.
“I know I haven’t been pitching good, but I’m doing my best. I try to think positive every time, and the last few outings I’ve been getting better.”
Then there was plate umpire Greg Gibson, who was cut over his left eye by Hunter’s flying foot on a play in the fifth inning. Hunter was attempting to score from first base on a double by Kendrys Morales and an errant relay throw from right field when he attempted to slide head-first around the tag of Indians catcher Carlos Santana. His feet went in the air and nailed Gibson, who fell face-first into the dirt behind the plate.
The Angels said Gibson received five stiches above his eye and was expected to have an X-ray at a nearby hospital. He exited the field on his feet and was even making a few jokes, which made Hunter feel better.
Hunter said he was thankful that he was wearing shoes with a rubber sole instead of the spikes he sometimes chooses to wear.
“It was scary,” he said. “I felt a smack on my heel, and I was hoping it was his shoulder or something, but it was right in the face. I tell you what, he’s lucky I had my rubber bottoms on and not my spikes. If I’d had spikes on, he’d have been sliced up.”
Instead, it was the Indians who took the worst beating of the night. And that was fine with the Angels.