Santana will start Game 4 of the American League Championship Series against the Chicago White Sox on Saturday night. This would be a difficult spot for any rookie, but this one is made more difficult by the fact that the Angels trail in the ALCS, 2-1.
Santana stepped into the rotation earlier in the season when Kelvim Escobar was hurt and performed very well. More recently and more notably for purposes of pitching under pressure, Santana entered the decisive Game 5 of the Division Series when Bartolo Colon departed with an inflamed right shoulder.
It appeared to be a grim situation for the Angels, with the ace of their staff going down at the most crucial moment. But all Santana did was beat the New York Yankees and allow the Angels to advance.
Ordinarily, this would be Colon's turn to pitch for the Angels and they could reasonably look ahead, despite being behind in the ALCS, to a strong performance from their starting pitcher. But based on what Santana has achieved for them this year, all hope does not have to be abandoned because Colon is out.
Santana is only 22, but he's a cool customer. You might expect a rookie pitcher, thrown into difficult situations to be at least notably nervous, but not Santana.
"That's the way that I've been throughout my career," Santana said Friday through an interpreter. "I cannot recall any other type of situation in which I was too excited or out of control. That's the way I am."
And remaining calm is easier when you start building a record of coming through in pressure situations.
"I feel really good about myself because it seems like at the right time I'm able to get the job done," Santana said. "And that makes me feel very happy."
"Santana has been just what we needed when he came up and filled the spot I in our rotation early on when Kelvim was down," said Angels manager Mike Scioscia. "He's been incredible, and the games he pitched down the stretch for us to get into the playoffs, obviously the job he did against the Yankees in the Division Series was noted and was incredible. He just keeps going."
Santana will be opposed by Freddy Garcia, who has a postseason record of 4-2. If there is a burden on Garcia, it's a positive sort of burden, of whether he can add to the White Sox string of six straight starts in this postseason without an inadequate performance from a starting pitcher.
The real burden rests with the team that trails the Series at this point. And that means the Angels will have to find a way to solve the White Sox pitching. The Angels have scored just six runs in the first three games of this Series. The Angels have been silenced in the middle of the order, and maybe worse, they have not been able to employ their highly effective small ball offense.
"It's really important for us to start to pressure them early in games and do some of the things we need to do," Scioscia said after his club's Game 3 loss Friday night. "On the offensive side, we've got to start getting some things going, get a little continuity.
"It's not the end of the world, it's our second loss. But there's a lot of baseball to be played, and if we get into our game, we're going to be right in this Series."
No doubt, a 2-1 deficit does not in and of itself spell doom. You'd like the Angels' chances a lot better if the Santana they had going Saturday was Johan rather than Ervin, but this young pitcher has answered the call successfully for them before.
To avoid a much more demoralizing 3-1 deficit, the Angels are going to need another strong performance from Santana, or a revival of their offense, and perhaps both.
Mike Bauman is the national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.