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Portrait Of The Artist As a Young Man II

"When they put his numbers on the scoreboard (8.16 ERA, 21 walks in 28 innings), I figured we were off to the races..."

"When I saw him come out of the bullpen that early, to be honest, I thought, `We're in trouble."

Those were the words of Astros manager Larry Dierker and Twins outfielder Matt Lawton to newspaper reporters from the likes of the Houston Chronicle, the St. Paul Pioneer Press, and the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, after their respective teams played a game against each other June 6, 2000.

But this wasn't just any game. It was the first major league win for Johan Santana.

Yes, those were Santana's numbers when he entered in the third inning in relief of Eric Milton, who was pulled from a scoreless game after being hit with a line drive. And that was Santana whom Lawton was referring to with those comments.

Santana had pitched in nine major league games to that point, none of which his team, the Twins, had won. Used most recently in games which the Twins lost, 14-0, 13-4, and 9-3, Santana was an afterthought for most.

But Santana had some special motivation for pitching well in Houston. Santana had pitched in Class-A ball the season before and the Astros left the then-20-year-old unprotected in the Rule V Draft. The Twins made an arrangement with the Marlins, who drafted Santana, than swapped him to the Minnesota, which had seen something that it liked. Or at least something it liked more than Houston did.

There may have been some jitters at first and that led to Santana allowing a run in his first inning of work. Those subsided when Santana retired Moises Alou to prevent any further damage.

Santana rewarded the Twins willingness to put him into a close game by pitching shutout ball over the next four innings against a lineup that featured, besides Alou, Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell. Alou turned out to be the first of seven straight hitters that Santana retired.

The Twins rewarded Santana by scoring three runs in the eighth inning to put him on the right end of the decision. The RBI came from Cristian Guzman, Lawton, and another player looking to establish himself in a positive way- David Ortiz.

The Astros would bring the tying run to the plate in the ninth inning and give Santana a slight cause for angst in pursuit of his inaugural victory. Twins closer Eddie Guardado ended matters by striking out Matt Mieske and a young rookie named Lance Berkman on three pitches each to end the game.

"I was so sad, when (the Astros) let me go," Santana said. "I said then I would prove myself to them. I cannot feel any better than this."

True Mettanas know...To read my other "Portrait of the Artist as A Young Man" piece, go to this link:

http://www.metswalkoffs.com/2006/04/portrait-of-artist-as-young-man.html

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