Wasn’t it fitting then that on the night he matured as a closer, he had to face both of them in Yankee Stadium.
“Obviously, those are guys I wanted to be as a shortstop growing up,” said Santos, whose parents flew in from California to witness the moment. “It’s just different pitching to them, hoping they’d get out. It helps you lock in, because you know who those guys are. They’re good and you know they’re good and it forces you to step your game up and make pitches.”
Hesitant to use Santos to finish of victories because he was so new to pitching, manager Ozzie Guillen not only went to his right-hander Monday night, he handed him a four-out save chance in the Bronx.
Instead of getting eaten alive, Santos retired Jeter on a comebacker to end the eighth inning and struck out Rodriguez on a nasty slider to give the White Sox a 2-0 victory.
“He handled it better than me, I guarantee you that,” Guillen said. “We need that. I think our bullpen got better. People don’t know about it because they don’t have a chance to pitch. They got better the last five or six days. We never doubt our bullpen would be good. You look at the names we got out there and they are pretty good.”
It figures that Santos will head the list more often than not now, although Guillen declined to name him the guy after just one save. But Guillen seems to trust Santos. He didn’t have anybody warming up behind him even after he gave up a single to Curtis Granderson to lead off the ninth inning.
“I saw that and said, 'I’m either going to be the chump or the hero so let’s go for it,' ” said Santos, who got Mark Teixeira to hit into a double play before the Rodriguez strikeout. “It was nice [Guillen had] that confidence to send me out and get three outs.”
Catcher A.J. Pierzynski said the Teixeira at-bat was the big one.
“Sergio, that was kind of his first time out there, in Yankee Stadium,” Pierzynski said. “This is it, Yankee Stadium, heart of the lineup, and it was now or never. Then he fell behind Teixeira 2-0 and got him to roll over for a double play. As soon as it happened, you could see it on his face he could do it.”