Royals pitcher Ervin Santana announced to the world early Friday through Twitter that, “I’m ready for a great second half.”
This qualifies, at least, as great start.
Santana worked 71/3 innings Friday before Kelvin Herrera and Greg Holland closed out a 1-0 victory over Detroit in what, for the Royals anyway, was the start to a key three-game series at Kauffman Stadium.
“We lost five in a row going into the break,” designated hitter Billy Butler said. “Especially after winning the first two in New York, we thought we were going to have a pretty good road trip.
“The (three-game sweep by) Cleveland hurt but, coming out of the All-Star break, you forget about it. And we won a big game tonight.”
Butler provided the game’s only run — on an RBI single in the first inning after Alex Gordon swiped second following a leadoff single off the glove of second baseman Ramon Santiago.
Santana, 6-6, and the bullpen made the lone run stand up in front of a near-sellout crowd of 35,000. Holland retired the side in order in the ninth for his 23rd save in 25 chances as the big crowd chanted, “Let’s go, Holland!”
The night, however, belonged to Santana, who waged a pitchers’ duel with Tigers right-hander Anibal Sanchez.
“It was tough,” Santana said. “That’s a tremendous lineup. Everyone is aggressive over there, but everything (he threw) was pretty good. Especially location. Everything was down, and I elevated when I wanted to.”
Santana exited after a one-out walk in the eighth to Jhonny Peralta after jumping ahead 0-2 in the count. It was Santana’s first walk of the game and the fourth ball was his 106th pitch.
“I’m not letting him lose that game,” manager Ned Yost said. “We’re in the eighth inning. I’ve got a bullpen that’s got four days of rest. I’m going to the bullpen.”
The big crowd rose to its feet as Santana walked to the dugout, and he responded with a quick wave of his cap. He later called it “a very good moment.”
In came Herrera, who had just returned from a 31/2-week stay in the minors. Had he recaptured his mojo? This represented a significant first test, and he aced it. Herrera induced a possible double-play grounder to second from Andy Dirks, but Dirks extended the inning by beating the relay. But Herrera then struck out Alex Avila.
That got the game to Holland, who closed out Santana’s gem by recording his 16th straight successful save. The only other 1-0 game in Santana’s nine-year career was Aug. 1, 2008, for the Angels at New York.
The Royals managed just five hits but missed a few chances to extend their lead.
“The game, very easily, could have been a 4-0 game,” Yost said. “Gordy smoked a ball right at (first baseman) Prince Fielder with runners at second and third (in the second inning), and David Lough smoked a ball right at the second baseman with a runner at (second in the fourth inning).”
Alcides Escobar also struck out with the bases loaded in the sixth.
One run was enough.
Sanchez, 7-7, was the tough-luck loser — the second time in less than a year that he suffered a 1-0 loss to the Royals. The other one was Aug. 29, 2012, at Detroit when Bruce Chen and Holland combined on a shutout.
“He wasn’t giving in,” Butler said. “He might have walked some guys, but he was getting outs when he needed them. He was throwing a slider and one of the better change-ups from a righty that I’ve seen.”
Sanchez yielded just the one run and four hits in six innings.
Santana opened the game by retiring 10 in a row before Torii Hunter, a former Angels’ teammate. punched a one-out single to right in the fourth inning.
The Tigers’ only other hit was by Dirks with two outs in the fifth, but he was erased on an attempted steal of second.
“Santana is a good pitcher,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. “He made a lot of good pitches. He made a few bad ones that we hit hard, and they ran them down.”
Specifically, center fielder Lorenzo Cain ran them down — three sprints to the wall to haul in deep drives.
“I got great jumps on them, read them great off the bat,” Cain said. “I live to make the play. Ervin did an outstanding job today, so to be able to go make plays for him was huge.”
Cain chased down Hunter’s one-out drive in the first, Victor Martinez’s leadoff drive in the fifth and Miguel Cabrera’s one-out drive in the seventh.
Santana smiled, “He was working today.”
So was Santana.
“That’s his job,” catcher Salvy Perez laughed. “He has to pitch like that every time.”
Now that ... would be a great second half.