Author: Bob Harkins


After no-hitter, Ervin Santana overshadowed no more


Back in 2003, when Johan Santana was a 20-year-old in the Angels farm system, he worried that he might have to spend his career being confused with that pitcher with the same name who was dominating hitters for the Minnesota Twins.

He thought it might be wise to make a change, to make a name for himself. “I just came up with Ervin … Ervin Santana, that sounds good.”

Indeed it does.

On Wednesday against the Cleveland Indians, Ervin Santana put his name in the history books, becoming the first Santana – Johan, Ervin, Carlos or otherwise — to throw a no-hitter.

He did it with cold-blooded efficiency, throwing 76 of his 105 pitches for strikes. His four-seam fastball averaged 93 mph with plenty of movement, and his slider dropped off the table, yet was thrown for strikes more than 73 percent of the time. (Check out some more facts here)

He allowed only two base runners — one when Ezeqiuel Carrera reached on an Erick Aybar error in the first, and the other on a walk to Lonnie Chisenhall in the eighth — and struck out 10, including five of the final eight batters.

It all added up to a performance that Fangraphs called the most dominant of this season’s three no-hitters, despite the fact he actually allowed a run.

“Good fastball, good slider,” Cleveland Indians manager Manny Acta said. “He just attacked the zone.”

At 81-63 with a 4.31 ERA, Santana’s career has been fairly nondescript. Solid, yet unspectacular. He was overshadowed as a youngster by Johan Santana, and overshadowed as a big leaguer by teammates Jered Weaver and Dan Haren.

Santana has been better than his 6-8 record suggests this season, and has a 2.04 ERA over his last seven starts. But at 28, and with seven big league seasons under his belt, he still resides somewhere in the neighborhood between potential star and possible journeyman.

Is Wednesday’s feat a sign of better things to come? Angels catcher Bobby Wilson, who directed Wednesday’s masterpiece, thinks so, telling Lyle Spencer of

“We talked about attacking hitters. ‘Don’t give them too much credit. You’re here for a reason. Obviously, you have the stuff. Trust it and go after guys.’

“That’s what Ervin did, and if he keeps doing it, he’ll have a better chance every time he goes out there.”

For one day, at least, Santana gets the stage to himself. For one day, he is the ace with his name in lights.

Enjoy the moment, Ervin.

Bonus link: A song about how Santana changed his name.

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After blown call costs Pirates, can we please have expanded replay?


I hope that if the Pittsburgh Pirates miss the playoffs this season, it will be by more than one game.

The Pirates, who at 53-48 trail the NL Central-leading Cardinals by one game, were handed a 4-3, 19-inning defeat early Wednesday morning when Atlanta’s Julio Lugo was called safe by umpire Jerry Meals on a not-so-close play at the plate.

(Watch the video here)

Lugo was awarded the run despite the ball arriving to Pirates catcher Michael McKenry several feet before he did. He was called safe despite McKenry standing out in front of the plate as he tagged Lugo. Lugo didn’t even touch the plate until after McKenry turned to show the ball to Meals.

There is no guarantee the Pirates would have won the contest. Lugo would have been the second out, and the Braves would have still had runners on first and second. But Meals’ call put an end to a game that had no business ending, and the whole thing looked like the actions of an umpire who was ready to go to back to the hotel and go to sleep.

To his credit, Meals spoke to’s Mark Bowman after the game and more or less admitted that he blew the call.

“I saw the tag, but he looked like he oléd him and I called him safe for that.  I looked at the replays and it appeared he might have got him on the shin area.  I’m guessing he might have got him, but when I was out there when it happened I didn’t see a tag.

“I just saw the glove sweep up. I didn’t see the glove hit his leg.”

Now I’m not one who spends a lot of time complaining about umpires, as it’s largely a frustrating and fruitless exercise. The umpires have a difficult job. They have to judge whether fleet-footed players are safe or out on the base paths, and whether bullet-like fastballs and filthy breaking balls are in or out of the strike zone. Errors are going to be made, and I believe that over the course of a marathon season, the calls tend to even out.

But at some point there has to be some accountability. The explanations of “oh sorry, I might have blown that call,” start to ring hollow after a while, especially when the technology is there to help them get it right. Yes, the umpires make mistakes. But some of these mistakes don’t have to happen.

Bud Selig is not thrilled about the idea of expanding instant replay. But if he needed a watershed moment to give him the necessary kick in the rear, perhaps this is it.

You can follow Bob on Twitter, and get all your HBT updates here.

For all its flaws, MLB’s All-Star Game is best of its kind


PHOENIX – Say what you will about MLB’s All-Star Game.

Call it ridiculous that the winner of an exhibition game clinches home-field advantage for its league representative in the World Series. Say that the bloated rosters — made even larger by the handful of players who beg out of the game – make a mockery of the contest.

There is certainly some truth behind those criticisms. But for all of its flaws — and the All-Star Game is flawed — it’s still the best of its kind.

Tuesday night’s game, won 5-1 by the National League on the strength of MVP Prince Fielder’s 3-run homer, had its share of silly moments you are unlikely to see in your average, run-of-the mill baseball game. Heath Bell’s Earth-shaking slide into the mound in the eighth inning certainly helped everyone remember that when all is said and done, this is still at its heart an exhibition game, a showcase for the fans.

But there was also an intensity you don’t see in other games of its kind. Not in the NBA – and to some extent, the NHL – where players treat defense as if playing it will cost them their shoe contracts. And definitely not in the NFL’s Pro Bowl, where competitors can barely gather the interest to take a three-point stance for a field goal attempt.

Instead, we witnessed Toronto Blue Jays star Jose Bautista sliding feet-first into the wall to rob Brian McCann of extra bases. We saw majestic homers by Fielder and Adrian Gonzalez. We got a first-hand look at the electric stuff of rookie Michael Pineda and the steady brilliance of Roy Halladay. We saw the strong outfield arm of Hunter Pence, gunning down Bautista at the plate, and the lightning-quick first step of Starlin Castro, who easily swiped a pair of bases after entering the game as a pinch-runner.

There was no dogging it on Tuesday, and aside from Bell’s playful entrance, no hot-dogging it either. This was baseball at its everyday best, only played by collection of not-so-everyday players.

“It’s absolutely a normal baseball game,” said St. Louis’ Lance Berkman. “It doesn’t have the intensity of a playoff game, but in terms the effort and in terms of the concentration (it’s a normal game). Baseball isn’t a sport that lends itself to a lack of concentration or a lack of effort. You can’t coast through a baseball game.”

MLB commissioner Bud Selig has taken a lot of heat for the rule – his brainchild – giving the winner of the All-Star Game home-field advantage in the World Series, and deservedly so. It seems ridiculous to allow a player who might not make it anywhere near the playoffs play a role in which team wins the championship.

But in a chat with writers on Tuesday, Selig made it clear that the criticism doesn’t bother him. He said MLB’s TV partners like it that way, and he claimed the players do, too.

And for the most part, he seems to be right.

Cincinnati Reds slugger Joey Votto said that NL manager Bruce Bochy stressed how important home-field advantage is, and that it helped Bochy’s San Francisco Giants jump out to a 2-0 Series lead last fall before dispatching the Texas Rangers in five games.

“Just hearing that from his perspective really helped,” Votto said, “and I think it kept our eyes on the prize.”

Votto said that while he thinks players have always competed hard in All-Star Games, Selig’s rule will lessen the likelihood of past antics, mentioning specifically the Randy Johnson-John Kruk shenanigans in 1993.

Philadelphia Phillies left-hander Cliff Lee agreed.

“Regardless of who makes the World Series, someone out here is going to be impacted, so it’s important,” Lee said. “It’s not just a showcase, it’s not just a game where we’re out there messing around having a good time. It’s meaningful. We’re going to do everything we can to win.”

Berkman, however, said that it’s the nature of baseball itself, not Selig’s rule, that makes baseball’s All-Star Game the best of its kind.

“Really and truly, baseball is an individual sport played under the auspices of a team,” he said. “Whenever you have individual competition, nobody wants to get embarrassed. You’ve got guys who are throwing as hard as they can throw, we try as hard as we can to not make an out, and then the guys on defense are trying to make every play, so that leads to a good  baseball game.

“The level of play is exactly the way it is in the regular season, which I don’t think you get in the NBA All-Star Game, and certainly not in the Pro Bowl.”

So yes, Derek Jeter, as well as some of the other big-name stars, begged out of the game. The rosters are outrageously large and the lineups are watered down. The home-field advantage rule is questionable at best.

But for all its flaws, MLB’s All-Star Game is still the best of its kind, a marketing tool for the game and an exciting showcase for the fans, as it’s intended to be.

It’s hard to argue with the results on the field.