Santana talks the talk, then walks the walk

Veteran addresses Mariners in midst of losing streak, then mashes two homers

September 20th, 2022

ANAHEIM -- Early on Monday morning at Angel Stadium, well before a dominant 9-1 victory cleared away the intangibly frustrating haze of a three-game losing streak in the Mariners’ clubhouse, spoke up.

Health concerns have mounted for the Mariners, with the postseason nearing and their top three home run hitters out of the starting lineup. The division-rival Angels, despite another disappointing season, have been tough opponents for Seattle all year. There wasn’t necessarily panic at the possibility of being swept in four games, but Santana, the 36-year-old elder statesman who didn’t arrive until June but has made his presence felt, preached the need to stop the bleeding.

Santana has been on playoff-bound teams facing late-season adversity before, as well as on young teams sniffing October for the first time. Despite its cliche, “next man up” carried was a significant part of his clubhouse commentary.

Then, the veteran went out and embodied his mantra.

The switch-hitting Santana crushed two homers -- one from each side of the plate, including a grand slam -- and added a three-run blast to send Seattle soaring back in a positive direction, mathematically eliminating the Angels from postseason contention in the process. kept the Halos at bay by striking out a career-high 11 over six brilliant innings, with just four hits and one walk allowed.

“This is the best time for me in all of my career -- here,” Santana said.

The Mariners have been homering just about as much as any MLB team over the past two months and their offense looks drastically different when they’re leaving the yard consistently. Yet, after fractured his right index finger, Julio Rodríguez suffered lower back tightness and jammed his left thumb -- Seattle's three leading home run hitters, with 31, 27 and 23, respectively -- legitimate unease surfaced over how the Mariners would manufacture the long ball.

But that was before Santana showed that he, too, can be that kind of hitter. He’s crushed seven homers over his past nine games, and a whopping 15 of his 38 hits since joining the Mariners have gone over the fence. Monday was his fourth multihomer game since the trade, and he dedicated the effort to his mother, Nuris, on her birthday.

“He’s one of the guys you want on your side, on your team,” Gilbert said. “He brings a ton of energy and obviously what he did today was amazing. It's a huge help for us, and really a spark plug to get us going.”

The Mariners only acquired Santana due to injuries to key contributors. Now, they’re glad they have him to fill those voids again. Back then, it was a right elbow sprain suffered by France that necessitated a first-base reinforcement. Now, it’s Suárez’s third base where a vacancy has come up, which could be filled by France as soon as Seattle’s upcoming series in Oakland. That would move Santana out of his primary DH duties and back to first.

Regardless, Santana is showing even more value in the batter’s box, over and above what he brings in the clubhouse, which the Mariners have raved about the past three months.

“You can talk all you want, but you’ve got to back it up on the field, too -- because that's what really gets guys' attention,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “Carlos has just been fantastic.”

Monday's clubhouse collab was a prime example of Santana’s leadership.

He recounted a late-September stretch in 2016 when he was with Cleveland and the club lost star pitcher Carlos Carrasco to a broken right hand that ended his season. In spite of external doubters, the team went to Game 7 of the World Series. In '13, also with Cleveland, Santana was part of one of the game’s younger rosters, which surprised opponents on its way to an AL Wild Card berth. Sound familiar?

“This is me. This is my personality,” Santana said. “I try to help the younger guys, I try to help my team win the game. This is what I say all the time: ‘Seattle has great talent, but we need to play together and think about winning the game and making the playoffs.’ That’s why Seattle brought me here, to help the younger guys.”

Santana sports a slash line of .186/.288/.436 (.724 OPS) since the trade, with a low batting average and on-base percentage underscoring the fact that at times, his approach on offense is boom or bust. But he’s also shown a knack for coming through in huge moments, notably in tense wins over the contending Yankees and Blue Jays earlier this year.

And at a time where Seattle needs all the offense it can get with key players sidelined, Santana stepped up in a big way on Monday.