The Los Angeles Angels were down and their ace was out, and the 22-year-old rookie entered the game with a defiant look in his eye and the season on the line.
Santana pitched 5 1/3 gutsy innings in his postseason debut, Adam Kennedy hit a go-ahead triple that sent Yankees outfielders crashing to the ground, and Los Angeles beat New York 5-3 Monday night in the decisive Game 5 of their AL playoff series.
"I don't have to be nervous," Santana said. "It's a baseball game."
Less than 24 hours after arriving in California, the Angels prepared to leave for the start of the ALCS against the White Sox in Chicago on Tuesday night.
George Steinbrenner's $203 million Yankees once again learned that money doesn't buy success. Even with Randy Johnson coming out of the bullpen for 4 1/3 shutout innings, New York was eliminated by the Angels in the first round for the second time in four seasons, scoring 20 runs in the five games with four homers -- all solo shots.
"It was a street fight," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "I'm more disappointed than last year. I felt deep down that we would get it done."
Just like last season, when the Yankees lost four in a row to Boston after taking a 3-0 ALCS lead, Alex Rodriguez and Gary Sheffield were virtually invisible when New York needed their bats most. Rodriguez, New York's $252 million man, hit into a double play after the Yankees' first batter reached in the top of the ninth.
"I had a great year, something I'm very proud of," A-Rod said. "I left my guts on the field, I left my heart out there. I'm not going to hang my head. I'm going to learn from it and become a better Yankee."
With two on and two outs in the ninth as the Yankees mounted one more threat, Francisco Rodriguez retired Hideki Matsui on a sharp grounder to first. After winning four World Series in its first five seasons under Torre, the Yankees are without a title since 2000.
"We don't play to just make it to the playoffs, we've been to the playoffs before," New York captain Derek Jeter said. "We play to win, and we fell short again."
New York staved off elimination with a 3-2 victory Sunday night at Yankee Stadium, forcing one more game across the country in Anaheim. The teams traveled all night, both landing around 3:30 a.m. PT.
Santana, who started the season at Double-A, entered after Bartolo Colon departed in the second inning with a stiff right shoulder. Santana picked up the win by allowing three runs and five hits, leaving to a standing ovation with one out in the seventh after allowing a leadoff homer to Jeter.
"It was tough. We didn't have a lot of options," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "We had a lot of confidence in Erv. Ervin Santana is the story for us."
Garret Anderson homered and hit a sacrifice fly, and Francisco Rodriguez recorded four outs for his second postseason save and second this series. He allowed Jeter's third hit of the game starting the ninth and, after K-Rod induced a double-play grounder on A-Rod, Jason Giambi singled to right and Sheffield reached on an infield hit.
Matsui grounded to first baseman Darin Erstad, who made a diving stop and flipped the ball underhand to Francisco Rodriguez, who just beat Matsui to first for the final out.
The Angels threw their arms into the air in celebration and formed a group hug near first base, fireworks going off behind them beyond the outfield and streamers coming from the upper bleachers.
Bernie Williams, in perhaps his final game of a Yankees' career that began in 1991, went 0-for-3 with a walk and a run scored, flying out to left in the eighth in what could have been his final at-bat in pinstripes.
"It's very hard to always expect to do the things we're supposed to do as a team," Williams said.
Los Angeles advanced to its first ALCS since winning the franchise's first World Series title in 2002, and the Angels became the first team to eliminate the Yankees twice during Torre's 10-year tenure.
The Yankees' best chance at a comeback against Santana was ended on a disputed call in the fifth inning. With runners on first and second and two outs, Robinson Cano swung at a third strike in the dirt. Cano ran to first and catcher Bengie Molina's throw went past Erstad, apparently loading the bases for Williams. But plate umpire Joe West called Cano out for running inside the baseline, prompting an unsuccessful argument by Torre.
"The rule states that he has to stay in that running lane during the last half of the distance, which he was not," West said. "So whether the ball hit him or not, he interfered with Erstad trying to catch the ball."
Anderson's second-inning home run started the comeback against Game 1 winner Mike Mussina after New York had taken a 2-0 lead in the top half.
Kennedy, the No. 9 hitter who was MVP of the 2002 ALCS, lined a triple to right-center with two outs in the second. Sheffield, in right, and center fielder Bubba Crosby collided hard and hit the wall trying for the catch. Two runs scored as the Angels went ahead 3-2, and the Yankees never recovered.
"I don't think either one of us could hear each other call it. I don't think either one of us knew we could catch it until right at the last minute," Crosby said. "It was one of those gray areas. (Kennedy) put it right in the right spot. Sheff is aggressive, I'm aggressive and we collided."
Anderson added a sacrifice fly in the third, and Erstad's infield grounder also drove in a run. One out later, the 42-year-old Johnson relieved to face Steve Finley -- the first relief appearance for the Big Unit since beating the Yankees in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series for Arizona.
Mussina lasted only 2 2/3 innings for his shortest career postseason outing.
"It's not the three-run homer, it's the little stuff that happens," he said.
Colon, who returned to California on Saturday, managed to get out of first-inning trouble when he struck out Matsui with two on. But he was replaced after 23 pitches by Santana, who hadn't pitched since winning 7-4 at Texas on Oct. 2, the final day of the regular season.
Santana had some control problems at the start and allowed an RBI single to Crosby and Jeter's sacrifice fly, but "had flashes of brilliance," Scioscia said.
"He's our secret weapon," Angels shortstop Orlando Cabrera said.
New York stranded 11 in the game, continuing its yearlong problem of hitting with men on base.
A-Rod, just 2-for-17 in the final four games of last year's ALCS collapse against Boston, went 2-for-15 (.133) with no RBI. Sheffield, 1-for-17 during last year's final four games, finished the series 6-for-21 (.286) with no extra-base hits and two RBI.
While the Yankees headed home to pack for another early winter, the Angels hurried to get organized for the next round.
Los Angeles was the first AL team to clinch a playoff berth -- a Sept. 27 win by Santana at Oakland -- and was determined to forget about losing three in a row to Boston in the ALDS last October. This team hasn't been as strong offensively as the 2002 Angels, but Los Angeles has made up for it with strong pitching and defense -- the best Scioscia's had during his six seasons as manager.
"This one," Kennedy said, "definitely has a little more talent ."
- The Angels are 14-5 in postseason play at home since 1982.
- Williams appeared in his record 120th postseason game.
- Doctors think LHP Jarrod Washburn, scratched from his Game 4 start because of a throat infection and a high fever, has strep throat and his status for the next round was unclear.
- Anderson's homer was the fourth of his career off Mussina.
- Colon will be re-evaluated Tuesday and Scioscia hopes he can pitch in the ALCS. "It's too early to tell," Scioscia said.