Santana breezed through the best of what the Boston examiners had to offer, then nervously awaited the outcome as the Angels bullpen juggled another lead before sealing the deal in a 4-2 win.
"As young as he is and the pennant race that we're in, it is really impressive," said Scot Shields, who ultimately held serve in the eighth, but not before sticking Santana with a pair of runs on the day after giving up a two-out, two-run single to Edgar Renteria. "It is going to be really fun, not just this year but in the years to come, to watch him develop."
The Angels used a pair of two-run innings to provide Santana with enough offense. Adam Kennedy singled and scored twice for the Angels while Darin Erstad drove in two runs in the bottom of the third on a single to center with the second run scoring when Johnny Damon overran the ball for an error. Orlando Cabrera's sac fly and a wild pitch by Red Sox reliever Chad Bradford that allowed Chone Figgins to score handed the Halos two insurance runs in the seventh.
But staying on message was Santana, who is not just taking cupcakes to advance toward his degree, he's handling the core curriculum and could easily earn extra credit for facing the tough lineups.
"His fastball, his sinker, cutter, changeup, curveball -- he had the same arm action on every one of those pitches. That's why we were having all those funny swings," Damon said. "Later in the game, he wasn't quite having that same arm action, but we were looking for all those pitches and he was getting by with his fastball. We had some pitches to hit in the middle innings, [but] we just didn't do it. He pitched well. You have to tip your hat to that, and hopefully we'll see him again in Boston and we'll have a better idea of what he does."
Santana (7-5) gave the first indication that he may have satisfied the prerequisites in his second Major League start. On May 23, he picked up his first Major League win by going the distance to shut out the White Sox. He later held the Twins to a single run on July 5 and during the A's midsummer run into contention in the American League postseason chase, Santana held Oakland to three runs over two starts while notching a win and a no-decision.
But perhaps the strongest indication that Santana will not be prone to stage fright when it comes to appearing at the head of the class came on July 29 at Yankee Stadium, where he calmly held the Bombers to one run over 6 1/3 innings for his second win in as many starts against New York.
Santana has simply not been in awe of his surroundings since joining the Angels on May 17 for the injured Kelvim Escobar again, and probably for good, on June 14.
"I'm not intimidated by anyone," said Santana, who did not walk a batter for the first time this season. "I just have to make my pitches. They might hit a ground ball, but that's OK. I feel good because I've learned a lot and I grow fast."
Santana's season has not been about success, though. His debut was utterly forgettable when he allowed six runs and eight hits in four innings to take the loss at Cleveland, low-lighted when the Indians hit for the cycle to open the game.
Then came starts at home against Florida and at Texas when he was rocked for seven runs each time. On July 10, the Mariners put five on the board against Santana, but that was the last time he's surrendered that many. In seven starts since, Santana has allowed three runs or fewer each time. In five of those starts, including Saturday, he's whittled it to two or less.
"My impression of Ervin and seeing him as he's grown and used the experience in his starts [is that] he feels good just going out there and executing pitches," manager Mike Scioscia said. "When it comes down to pressure situations, it is just about making pitches. If he can bring that, that is a sign of a guy that is going to be good."
Santana was sharp throughout most of his 7 2/3 innings on Saturday while also showing poise uncommon to most 22-year-olds, all while facing the defending World Series champions.
He struck out the side in the first and five of the first six batters he faced while sailing through three perfect innings. David Ortiz interrupted the proceedings briefly with a two-out double down the right-field line in the fourth, but Santana barely noticed. Instead, he maintained focus and did not allow another baserunner until Renteria doubled to lead off the seventh.
Again, Santana did not flinch and calmly worked his way through the heart of the order, getting Ortiz on a pop up to short, eliminating Manny Ramirez on a hot shot to third that nearly consumed Maicer Izturis, who instead fielded cleanly, and finally getting Jason Varitek on a fly ball to left to end the inning.
The Angels staked Santana to a 4-0 lead in the bottom of the seventh, and those runs loomed large when Kevin Millar and Bill Mueller opened the eighth with back-to-back base hits off Santana. He came back for two quick fly ball outs, but Damon took a 2-2 pitch the opposite way for a single to load the bases. Santana gave way to Shields, who allowed the two-run single to Renteria, but struck out Ortiz with a sweeping 77 mph curve. Francisco Rodriguez pitched the ninth for his 28th save.
"I feel bad to have given up the two runs for Santana, but I was glad to get out of it and give it to Frankie," Shields said.
Whether any postseason honors will be handed to Santana remains to be seen, but until then, he just wants to be handed the ball.