Turns out, it was a no-brainer.
“Double,” the veteran blurted out with a smile after he’d almost single-handedly delivered the Twins a 4-0 victory over the San Francisco Giants in the opener of a three-game interleague series.
Robbie Grossman had three hits and Brian Dozier continued a history of strong interleague play with two hits, including an RBI single, as the Twins beat the Giants for the first time since 2011, snapping a five-game losing streak.
“The kind of game the manager likes,” Twins skipper Paul Molitor said after the error-free, 2-hour, 27-minute affair. “Not a lot of decisions to make.”
Facing the Giants for the first time in his career, Santana (8-3) allowed just four hits, including a leadoff triple in the third inning to Aaron Hill while the Twins were leading 1-0.
He pitched out of the jam by getting three weakly hit ground balls, then never allowed another baserunner past first base in his 11th career shutout, tying Felix Hernandez for the fourth-most among active pitchers.
“I felt real comfortable,” Santana said after his 19th career complete game, the fourth this season. “First-pitch strikes all game.”
Santana needed just 91 pitches to finish the job, the fewest in a shutout in a major league game this season.
“We saw why this guy is having such a great year,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said of Santana. “He made it look easy. When a pitcher is that good, he just makes you look flat. We just couldn’t get anything going.”
The Twins set the stage for Santana’s offensive heroics when Grossman led off the fourth inning with a single.
After Max Kepler walked, Giants starter Matt Moore got two outs before pitching around Jason Castro, walking the hot-hitting catcher to bring Santana to the plate with the bases loaded.
In just his second at-bat of the season, Santana swung at Moore’s first pitch and lofted a medium-deep fly ball to right-center field that barely eluded a diving center fielder Denard Span in large part because the San Francisco outfielders were playing shallow.
“We’d do the same thing, too,” Santana said about the outfielders moving in when he came to the plate.
“Fastball swinging,” he said of his approach to the at-bat. “Make good contact, and that was it. Not try to do too much.”
The three-run hit made it 4-0 and completed the game’s scoring.
It also drove Moore’s ERA to 9.49 in the fourth inning this season.
“You get bases loaded and you are going to challenge him,” Bochy said of Santana’s key hit. “The guy hasn’t had a hit in, what, three years? He placed it just right. It was good break for them. He’s a great pitcher, but I know he’s not a very good hitter and we got burned an AL pitcher. They don’t take BP (batting practice) or anything.”
Moore (2-7) was lifted after six innings, having allowed all four Twins runs and seven hits. He walked three and struck out three.
Santana (8-3) walked one and struck out five.
“I don’t think he hung a slider all night,” Molitor observed.
Dozier had two hits for the Twins, who improved to 19-8 on the road this season with their fifth win in eight outings on their 10-game western swing.
The 2-for-4 outing made him 25-for-80 (.313) with 14 RBIs in his last 18 interleague games, with at least one hit in 16 of them.
The Twins evened their interleague record at 2-2 this season with the 192nd win against National League competition in their history.
Hill had the only extra-base hit for the Giants, who have lost eight of their last 11 games.
The Giants, who were shut out for the seventh time this season, fell to 168-169 all time in interleague play.
NOTES: RHP Ervin Santana’s three RBIs were the most for a Minnesota pitcher since RHP Luis Tiant had three against the Milwaukee Brewers in 1970. Before Santana, the last American League pitcher to have a three-RBI game was Royals RHP Chris Young against the Brewers last June. … The bases-loaded double was the second of Santana’s career. Exactly 10 years earlier, he’d had one for the Los Angeles Angels against the St. Louis Cardinals, driving in two runs. … Only LHP Clayton Kershaw (15), RHP Bartolo Colon (13) and LHP CC Sabathia (12) have more career shutouts than Santana among active pitchers. … Twins C Jason Castro and Giants 3B Eduardo Nunez both extended hitting streaks to 11 games. … The Giants added recently acquired RHP Sam Dyson to the 25-man active roster and demoted OF Orlando Calixte to Triple-A Sacramento.