SEATTLE -- Angels starter Hector Santiago had already made two slick plays in Sunday's eventual 3-0 victory at Safeco Field, stabbing at a hard grounder from Nelson Cruz and converting an acrobatic sliding play on a dribbler from Ketel Marte. But when Shawn O'Malley pushed a bunt down the first-base line to start the sixth, Santiago attempted another slide and watched the ball bounce off his glove, giving the Mariners a baserunner.
It wasn't until he retreated to the dugout that Santiago realized he had surrendered his first hit.
"Damn it, O'Malley," Santiago playfully recalled thinking. "You're my ex-teammate. Come on, bro. What are you doing? Swing the bat."
Every other Mariners hitter swung the bat against Santiago, but that didn't accomplish much, either.
Coming off back-to-back-to-back starts in which his velocity dwindled and the results wavered, Santiago provided the best outing by an Angels starter all season. He pitched eight scoreless innings, allowing only two hits, walking one batter, plunking a couple of others and striking out five in the Angels' uplifting sweep of the first-place Mariners.
Santiago got back to throwing his fastball consistently in the mid-90s, located his changeup down in the zone, mixed in some screwballs that he called "sick" and, as Angels catcher Geovany Soto said, "had that nice balance going."
"When he's on his game, that's what you're going to get -- he's going to come after you," Soto said. "He's going to come after you with everything he's got."
Santiago began the year with a 2.70 ERA through his first four starts, with 27 strikeouts and only eight walks over a span of 26 2/3 innings. Over his next three outings, though, he gave up 11 runs and recorded only seven punchouts in 15 1/3 innings, a span in which his average four-seam-fastball velocity went from 92.5 mph to 91.3 to 89.7.
The 28-year-old left-hander chalked most of that up to relying more heavily on his two-seam fastball, which typically travels a little slower. Throwing so many of those two-seamers, Santiago said, got him into the habit of also staying inside the ball on his four-seamer, which prevented him from "driving through the zone" and ultimately affected the radar-gun readings.
On Sunday, Santiago's fastball -- identified by pitchF/X as a sinker -- averaged 93.3 mph and topped out at 96.
"That's the way he was throwing the ball earlier in the year," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "That's a terrific game."
Santiago became the first Angels starter to throw eight scoreless innings while allowing no more than two hits since Garrett Richards on July 28, 2015. It came one day after Jhoulys Chacin held the Mariners to seven innings of two-run ball, which marked only the second time in 15 games that an Angels starter had done so much as record 18 outs.
Four starting pitchers -- Richards, Andrew Heaney, C.J. Wilson and Tyler Skaggs -- are currently tending to injuries, and the Angels badly need Santiago to be on point.
"I can only go up there and pitch one game," said Santiago, 9-2 with a 2.60 ERA in his last 22 starts against American League West opponents. "I can't fill the other two or three spots that we were missing. I just try to go up there and be as good as I can."
Santiago held the Mariners hitless through the first five innings and didn't come close to giving up a run until the seventh, when Cruz drove a fastball -- Santiago wanted to throw a curveball -- deep into the right-field warning track and into Kole Calhoun's glove.
Santiago retreated to the dugout with 105 pitches thinking his day was finished, but Scioscia clapped his hands and told him he'd pitch the eighth. He finished that eighth with 115 pitches, jogged back in again and gave Scioscia a smirk, pleading for three more outs, but the Angels' manager wouldn't budge.
Said Santiago: "I should've just run the other way so he wouldn't see me."