ARLINGTON -- When Robin Ventura first approached the media following the White Sox 4-3 victory Saturday at Rangers Ballpark, he was wearing a wet uniform and didn't exactly know what had hit him.
"All I know is it was very cold," said Ventura with a smile.
Ventura certainly was accepting of the dousing, considering it came in celebration of his first career victory as a manager. It was actually a victory represented by two firsts and early-season redemption.
Along with the milestone for Ventura, Hector Santiago recorded his first career save to the surprise of many including those in the Rangers' dugout. Yes, the White Sox closer mystery, possessing the strange twists and turns over the past two weeks befitting a reality show, resulted in the rookie with the screwball and 95-mph fastball as the winner.
Santiago started warming up in the White Sox bullpen as soon as Alex Rios connected on a 1-2 pitch from Rangers closer Joe Nathan for a tiebreaking solo homer leading off the ninth. And Rios' blast landing just over the leaping effort of Josh Hamilton in center, along with a handful of solid defensive plays in right, is where that redemption component comes into play.
"It has been a while since I've hit a ball that good," said Rios, coming off of a dreadful .227 effort in 2011 with just 13 homers. "It felt good."
"If anything, I thought he would foul it off," said Nathan, who thought Rios would be looking slider or offspeed, so he went with a 93-mph fastball on the 1-2 offering. "But he's still a professional hitter and I've got to hit my spot. I thought he would have a little more defensive swing. That was not a defensive swing."
That one-run advantage was given to Santiago, a 24-year-old, 30th-round selection in the 2006 First-Year Player Draft, who wasn't even guaranteed to make the seven-man bullpen at the start of Spring Training. He retired Mitch Moreland on a popup to short center field, which shortstop Alexei Ramirez caught with his back to the infield via a highlight-reel slide and grab.
Ian Kinsler grounded out weakly to Ramirez, seemingly Kinsler's first ball not hit hard over these two games. Santiago fell behind at 3-1 on Elvis Andrus, before Andrus lined out to Rios.
Recording his first career save and just his fifth at any level of competition was even more exciting than Santiago's big league debut on July 6 of last year against the Royals.
"Yeah, definitely because you got more of a bigger situation," said Santiago, who had 5 1/3 previous innings of Major League experience. "My debut was more relaxed. We were down by three. It wasn't a big situation like it was tonight."
"He's got a good fastball," said Kinsler of Santiago. "When you have a left-hander who can throw 95 [mph], it makes it difficult."
The ninth-inning presence of Santiago allows Ventura to keep Matt Thornton and Jesse Crain in crucial setup roles and gives him the flexibility to use hard-throwing rookie Addison Reed anywhere late in the game. Reed retired the two hitters he faced in the seventh, but it was Thornton who earned the victory by pitching out of a somewhat self-inflicted two-out, bases-loaded jam in the eighth.
After retiring the first two hitters, Michael Young and Nelson Cruz singled and Thornton hit Murphy. Thornton fell behind at 3-0 to Mike Napoli, before coming back to induce an inning-ending, 3-2 grounder to third.
Both starting pitchers Derek Holland and Jake Peavy struggled early on the mound but finished strong over their final three innings. Holland allowed three runs on three hits over six, striking out five and walking three, but also gave up just an Adam Dunn walk from the fourth through the sixth.
Peavy gave up seven hits in his first four innings worked, but retired eight in a row between Murphy's leadoff double in the fourth and his two-out double in the sixth. The White Sox right-hander struck out five and walked one, throwing 66 of his 94 pitches for strikes before giving way to Will Ohman in the seventh.
A mechanical adjustment made by Peavy helped get his breaking ball away, paying dividends as he closed out a solid season debut in which he was happier with the team's result than his showing.
"I'm proud of the team," Peavy said. "It was a grind. That's as good of a team win as you can have on all aspects."
Paul Konerko, playing in his 2,000th career game, accounted for the South Siders' first three runs with a single scoring Alejandro De Aza in the first and a two-out, two-run double to right-center on an 0-2, 87-mph changeup off Holland in the third. Through two games, Konerko is 2-for-2 with runners in scoring position while the rest of the team is 0-for-9.
That lead didn't hold up long, as the Rangers scored two in the bottom of the third off Peavy, but he controlled a rally that could have been worse. It gave Rios a chance for ninth-inning heroics, and gave Ventura a chance to receive a victory beer shower and the baseball from the final out of his first win.
In typical classy Ventura fashion, he gave the ball back to Santiago.
"Hector is a player," Ventura said. "He earned that."
"I know he's done a lot in the game and he's done many things on the field," Konerko said. "It still has to be pretty cool for him to get his first win as a manager and hopefully we give him more."