Ervin Santana: The Anti-Rally Monkey

Steve WaverlyContributor IJuly 28, 2009

ANAHEIM, CA - JULY 26:  Manager Mike Scioscia of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim sends starting pitcher Ervin Santana #54 to the bench during the fourth inning of the game against the Minnesota Twins at Angels Stadium on July 26, 2009 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Forget the ERA, forget the win/loss record, forget the hits and walks and strikeouts. Forget the speed gun.

Ervin Santana is never going to get better than he is now, for one simple reason.

He doesn’t think he needs to.

Listen to John Lackey after a loss. He growls like a bear without food. You get the feeling he’d scratch the other team’s eyes out to get a win. You want quotes? Lackey’s are usually concise: “I stunk.”

That’s why he’s so good. Lackey never accepts being average. He beats himself up more than any batter could, because he strives for perfection.

All elite pitchers do. The first person they point the finger at is themselves.

Now let’s listen to what Ervin Santana says after getting pounded: “The ball was coming out of my hand well.” This is his favorite, and has been used over and over. Then his last one after getting sent to the showers in the fourth inning and burying his team in a 6-0 hole: “I made good pitchers and they just hit bloopers or ground balls for base hits.”

In other words, it wasn’t his fault. He pitched a great game. He just didn’t get any breaks.

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He didn’t get any breaks all right. No break on his curve, no break on his slider, no break from his string of lousy games.

I knew the Angels recent winning streak was over the minute I saw his turn come up in the rotation. He doesn’t feel like a winner, because he doesn’t sound like one.

Look, I’m not saying the guy can’t pitch. Every single pitcher in the big leagues can pitch. But they’re getting paid a lot of money to pitch well. No, better than well. To pitch great—consistently.

Professional athletes are by and large amazing talents. And physically, the difference between them—with the exception of a few special players—is minuscule. What really separates them at this level is the mind. Mental toughness. Competitive spirit. A will to win.

Does John Lackey have that much better stuff than other pitchers? No. He doesn’t throw 100 mph. What Lackey does have is a bulldog, never say never, leave me in or die mentality.

Orel Hershiser comes to mind.

Ervin Santana is simply not that guy. No knock on him as a human being. Seems like a great person. But he’s not the guy I want pitching game one of the World Series.

If the rally monkey is the symbol of Angel victories, Ervin Santana is the antithesis.

He’s the rally killer.