CLEVELAND — Ervin Santana might get to like Cleveland after all.
On the same field where he made his major league debut by allowing a cycle to the first four big-league hitters he faced (a triple, double, single and home run), the Angels right-hander pitched the Angels' first one-man no-hitter since 1984, beating the Cleveland Indians, 3-1, on Wednesday afternoon.
"Everybody dreams about it," said Santana, who returned to his locker to find four bottles of champagne chilling in plastic buckets emptied of Double Bubble gum. "It's a dream come true."
It is the first no-hitter by a single Angels pitcher since Mike Witt's perfect game in Texas on Sept. 30, 1984. Mark Langston and Witt combined on a no-hitter against the Seattle Mariners on April 11, 1990, and Jered Weaver and Jose Arredondo combined on an eight-inning no-hitter, losing 1-0 to the Dodgers on June 28, 2008.
Santana's no-hitter was the third in the majors this season — all by pitchers with losing records going into that game. Minnesota Twins left-hander Francisco Liriano was 1-4 before he no-hit the Chicago White Sox on May 3. Detriot Tigers right-hander Justin Verlander was 2-3 before he pitched his no-hitter against the Toronto Blue Jays four days after Liriano's and Santana took a 5-8 record to the mound Wednesday.
"His stuff is much better than his win-loss record indicates this year," Angels Manager Mike Scioscia said. "Obviously, you're not going to do that every night. You're fortunate to do it once and if you do it twice you're blessed. But he's got that kind of arm. Everything fell into place today."
At first, it fell with a thud. The first Indians batter, Ezequiel Carrera, reached base on an error by shortstop Erick Aybar, stole second and went to third on a groundout. He scored on a wild pitch by Santana when catcher Bobby Wilson couldn't block a slider in the dirt.
But Santana had taken a no-hitter into the sixth inning of his previous start in Baltimore and was even better this time. After the leadoff error, he retired the next 22 consecutive batters, throwing 10 pitches or less in each inning from the third through the seventh.
"That is the best stuff I've ever seen him have," Angels second baseman Howie Kendrick said. "Everything he threw was nasty. His fastball was always on the corners."
It was Kendrick who made the only exceptional defensive play to keep the no-hitter going, ranging up the middle to make a back-handed stop and throw out rookie Jason Kipnis at first to start the sixth inning.
In the outfield, the Angels had started the speedy duo of Peter Bourjos (center) and Mike Trout (left) together for the first time — but the only fly balls hit until the last out were three lazy fly balls to Torii Hunter in right.
It was left for the Angels' offense to provide the tension by not providing much run support. They managed a single run in the fifth, tying the score when Bourjos led off with a triple and came in on a sacrifice fly by Trout. In the sixth, they gave Santana a lead on Hunter's aggressive dash home from third.
Kendrick was on first and took off on a steal attempt. Indians catcher Carlos Santana sprang from his catching position but dropped the ball and accidentally kicked it away. As he scrambled to retrieve the ball, Hunter raced home and scored on a head-first slide. The Angels didn't give Santana any more breathing room until an unearned run in the ninth on the last of the Indians' five errors in the game.
"I think what Ervin did today you have to appreciate more because it was a close game," Scioscia said. "His fastball command was as good as I've seen it since he's been in the big leagues."
The close game also distracted many of Santana's teammates from the no-hitter unfolding in front of them.
"It kind of happened quick," Angels right-hander Jered Weaver said. "I think I looked up in the fifth or sixth and realized he had a no-hitter."
Santana said he didn't realize it himself until "the sixth, seventh inning."
"I was looking ahead to the hitters coming up," Wilson said. "I wasn't thinking about a no-hitter or anything. I was trying to focus on that one pitch at a time and what we needed to do to get the next hitter out."
Santana finally allowed another baserunner in the eighth when Lonnie Chisenhall worked an eight-pitch walk, checking his swing on a full-count pitch. But Santana struck out the next two batters, part of a stretch that saw him strike out five of six batters for half of his 10 strikeouts.
"There was excitement," Scioscia said of the no-hit pursuit. "You see a guy getting within nine outs, then six outs, then three outs. You're looking to win the game and then you're looking for that cherry on top which Ervin provided.
"Some guys get taken out of their game, looking at that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, and they start overthrowing or changing their game plan, only going with one pitch they think is working best for them (afraid to lose the no-hitter on their second-best pitch). Bobby and Ervin did a great job from Pitch One to Pitch 105, mixing up pitches, using everything, staying with the game plan."
Santana, who had never beaten the Indians in 10 starts including his big-league debut in May 2005, retired the side in order in the ninth inning, the final out coming on a fly ball to Bourjos in center field — only the fourth ball hit out of the infield. Santana was mobbed by his teammates in the center of the diamond.
"This was fun," Kendrick said. "To be able to be part of one — I had goose bumps walking off the field."