I would have never imagined the Angels could have been on the cusp of sweeping the Mariners this Sunday, but here we are, having made it through two crazy, come-from-behind wins and on the verge of busting out the brooms against the Mariners. One man stood in the Angels' way: King Felix Hernandez. Like the last level of a video game, we'd have to face a formidable, and familiar, foe. But the visiting heroes had an ultimate weapon; they had Hector Santiago.
No joke, we saw an otherworldly Hector Santiago today. He came in on the heels of a great Jhoulys Chacin start from last night, and perhaps that got him in a competitive mood because he joined Chacin in that rare club of Halos starters going seven or more innings. But he didn't just go deep in the game; he owned the game.
Santiago had the Mariners under his thumb for his entire offering, effectively locating pitches and we also saw the return of his velocity. One of the stories of the first month or so was his increase in velocity in 2016, but the past couple weeks saw it disappear. At Safeco Field today, he was back firing with an average velocity that was kicking around the 93-94 mark, but he'd hit 95 on multiple occasions.
This was a man so dialed in, that he took a no-hitter into the sixth inning against division-leading Seattle, and it was only broken up when in that inning, former-Angels Shawn O'Malley bunted on him and got himself a single. No bad blood there, just what you'd expect from the #9 hitter of that team. But that didn't knock Santiago out, as he would get out of the inning, nobody warming up in the bullpen; this was Hector's game, 100%.
The Angels never seem to miss Felix Herandez, and for awhile it seemed like this was going to be one of those epic start for King Felix in his own court. Actually, it WAS an epic start for Hernandez, as he was basically trading blows with Santiago all game long. With nine Ks on his day, he was definitely giving our guys fits, but they eventually got to him, it just some patience.
First blood was drawn in the fifth, when Johnny Giavotella doubled and then was driven home by a Kole Calhoun single. It was Kole's first career RBI against Felix Hernandez and it gave the Halos a 1-0 lead in a tight pitching duel. They added to that tally in the eighth, with King Felix getting knocked out of the game, and reliever Nick Vincent taking over. Vincent inherited some Hernandez runners, and Daniel Nava made the Mariners pay as he hit a Vincent slider for a two-out, two-run single. Angels took a huge(relatively) 3-0 lead.
Hector continued to deal for the Angels, going deep into the game and for only the second time in his career, he pitched eight innings. Crazy. It's crazy because this team is so hot and cold, and it's crazy because we never know what pitching we're going to see. But when it's as good as it was the last couple games, I don't care about the inconsistency. I just want to sit back and enjoy it. Hector was masterful today, in a tough matchup with a division rival, and outside of a no-hitter, I literally couldn't ask for more from him.
Santiago's night was done after eight, but he was already in uncharted territory so no more needed to be proven. Mike Scioscia sent in Joe Smith to finish the job, and he was able to make quick work in the bottom of the ninth. The Angels had actually done it. They completed a sweep against Jerry Dipoto's much-ballyhooed Mariners at Safeco, and looked like a legitimately good team while doing so. They showed guts and power, from various aspects of the game, and gave us some of the most entertaining games of the season.
Maybe it's the air in Seattle, maybe it's Scioscia's new lineup, maybe it's just cosmic, un-explainable; whatever it is, I love it. And like that, i'm looking forward to the Freeway Series. Light up that halo in Anaheim, those boys are hot.