Santana shuts down the Yankees

August 1, 2008 8:55:18 PM PDT
Torii Hunter's eyes went big when he saw Mariano Rivera's cutter floating over the middle of the plate. He put the barrel of the bat on it, sent it hurtling into center, and pumped his fist on the way to first. His grandmother would have been proud.

Hunter's RBI single in the ninth inning off Rivera gave the Los Angeles Angels their fifth straight win, 1-0 over the New York Yankees on Friday night.

It was a fitting ending to a tough week for Hunter, who will travel to Pine Bluff, Ark., on Saturday morning to attend the burial of Edna Cobbs, his grandmother.

Cobbs, who helped raise Hunter, passed away last Friday.

"She was a big baseball fan," Hunter said, a wistful smile pouring over his face. "A lot of what I did today were lessons I learned from her."

Such as?

With one the best closers of all time on the mound against him, she would have told him: "Be patient, Baby. He's gonna throw one," Hunter said.

"He played with a lot of emotion this week, it's been a very, very rough week for him," manager Mike Scioscia said. "He's kept his focus and played baseball and I think it's been a good release for him."

The Angels began the day 12½ ahead in the West, their largest lead in club history. They are 12-2 since the All-Star break.

Los Angeles is 7-1 on its current road trip through Baltimore, Boston and New York.

New York lost for the fifth time in six games. The Yankees began the day 4½ games behind Tampa Bay in the AL East.

Hunter's hit made a winner of Ervin Santana, who pitched eight stellar innings. Santana (12-5) struck out eight to snap a two-game losing streak.

"He has three 'plus' pitches and he had good command of them all," Yankees outfielder Johnny Damon said. "He pounded the strike zone and made us chase. He's definitely one of the better pitchers we've faced all year."

Francisco Rodriguez pitched a perfect ninth for his major league-leading 45th save in 48 chances.

"It's incredible how he's gotten so many opportunities," Scioscia said. "Hopefully we'll get the offense going to have the chance to give the guys at the back end of the bullpen some days off."

Rivera again struggled in a non-save situation, giving up a run for the third straight time no save was involved, and fourth in the last six. Rivera is 26-of-26 in save chances.

After walking Mark Teixeira to start the inning, Rivera (4-4) gave up a single to Vladimir Guerrero to put runners at the corners before Hunter lined a single up the middle to score pinch-runner Reggie Willits.

"I wish I can explain it. Or someone can explain that to me," Rivera said. "It's hard. Seeing tremendous defense, tremendous pitching, you go in there and don't do the job, it's disappointing."

The leadoff walk was particularly troubling to manager Joe Girardi.

"You don't see that very often. That's extremely unusual. For whatever reason, it happened tonight," he said.

Yankee starter Sidney Ponson allowed two hits in seven scoreless innings, his best start since joining the team in June.

He held the Angels hitless through four innings, but Garret Anderson singled to lead off the fifth. The 31-year-old pitcher walked four and struck out one.

Both teams wasted prime scoring opportunities multiple times. The Yankees put the leadoff batter on in four of the first six innings without scoring. The Angels did it three times in the first six frames.

The Angels loaded the bases with one out in the fifth, but Ponson got Chone Figgins to hit an infield fly, and got out of the inning when Maicer Izturis flied out.

Ivan Rodriguez grounded into a double play after a leadoff single in the fifth for New York; Guerrero did the same in the top of the sixth for Los Angeles; and Derek Jeter popped out to second on a hit-and-run after Damon's leadoff single in the bottom of the sixth.

The Yankees made some stellar defensive plays. Wilson Betemit, making his 10th career start at first base, made a fully-extended, leaping snare of Izturis' line drive leading off the third, and Bobby Abreu twice made jumping catches in right, smacking into the wall each time. Melky Cabrera crashed into the fence in center to start the seventh, robbing Anderson of extra-bases.

Not to be outdone, Izturis made a spectacular play in the seventh. Robinson Cano lined a shot that glanced off Santana and seemed headed for center field. Izturis made a diving stop, and then made the throw from his knees to get Cano by a hair.

Scioscia came out to check on Santana, who stayed in the game.

Girardi isn't pushing the panic button yet, but he is becoming increasingly anxious to see the Yankees play better baseball.

"This has not been a good homestand and we've got to bounce back," Girardi said. "To win games, you've got to put everything together and we have not done that on this homestand."

Notes: With the acquisition of Ivan Rodriguez, the Yankees became the first team in major league history to have seven players with 200 or more home runs, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. They are Alex Rodriguez (541), Jason Giambi (384), Richie Sexson (305), Ivan Rodriguez (293), Abreu (234), Jorge Posada (221) and Jeter (201). ... The Angels went 19-6 in July, the second best calendar month in club history.