Luckily for the Angels, Santana is looking more and more like his old All-Star self these days.
Santana pitched a sterling three-hitter for his first home win of the season, and Jeff Mathis hit a three-run double off the left-field wall in the Angels' 6-0 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays on Tuesday night.
Reggie Willits' two-run single in the fifth broke open a scoreless game for the Angels, who boosted their AL West lead over Texas to five games with their 18th win in 25 outings since the All-Star break. With his third career shutout on just 97 pitches, Santana (5-6) made it quick and surprisingly easy.
"We could see it coming within Ervin," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "A lot of areas on our team needed a performance like that. He had a lot of pitches working. He couldn't really have pitched a better game. ... He's a much better pitcher [now] than we saw all year."
A dominant start by Santana was a welcome development for the Angels, who declined to make a risky trade-deadline move to bolster a rotation that's been awfully shaky beyond ace John Lackey and Jered Weaver.
Santana has missed 52 games during two stints on the disabled list this season, rarely resembling last season's 16 game-winner even when healthy. When asked if he knew such a start was coming, Santana grinned and acknowledged he did, citing improved work in the bullpen and a delivery adjustment.
"It was very impressive," Santana said. "I was hitting my spots, throwing off-speed for a strike. ... I just forget about [previous losses] and keep pitching, because I'm a winning pitcher, not a losing pitcher."
Santana was outstanding from the start against the defending AL champions, retiring 12 of the Rays' first 13 batters. He had given up at least four runs in each of his last four starts, but he allowed just one Tampa Bay runner to reach second base.
Newcomer Gregg Zaun had two hits for the Rays, who have lost four of five on their West Coast road trip. Exactly two months after the Rays battered Santana for eight hits and six runs in Tampa Bay, they were baffled by the right-hander.
"He was just throwing his breaking stuff pretty good and keeping guys off-balance," Tampa Bay outfielder Carl Crawford said. "It didn't look unhittable at the plate, but obviously we weren't hitting it, so he was doing something right."
David Price (5-5) pitched four hitless innings for Tampa Bay before the Angels broke through with a pair of two-out, multi-run hits from the bottom two batters in their order.
"We've been playing pretty good ball, so these two games don't make me feel any worse or negative in that regard," Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon said. "I fully expect to be back here playing them in October."
"It just came down to me not being able to make a big pitch for us," Price said. "It's what I've done my entire life, but I couldn't do it tonight. ... Any time I give up a run on [an] 0-2 [count], I'm embarrassed. I mean, the guy's hitting .210. But that's a big league baseball team."
All-Star Chone Figgins then drove home Willits with just his second hit in 23 at-bats.
Los Angeles hit three singles and loaded the bases in the sixth before Mathis cleared them with a drive off the wall. Crawford appeared to be slow to read Mathis' sinking liner, retreating too late to make the catch.
Price retired the Angels' first 10 batters before hitting Maicer Izturis with a pitch in the fourth. Izturis grimaced when team doctors examined his right arm, and Erick Aybar replaced him before the fifth.
Izturis, a .301 hitter who plays shortstop and second base, has a bruised elbow.
A day after hitting his 400th homer, Vladimir Guerrero extended his hitting streak to 13 games with two singles for the Angels.
Los Angeles released RHP Justin Speier. The veteran reliever gave up three homers in one inning last week. ... Angels C Mike Napoli didn't play on his bobblehead night. ... Los Angeles OF Torii Hunter started a rehab assignment with Class-A Rancho Cucamonga on Tuesday night, going 0 for 2 with a walk. He has missed 29 games with a strained groin muscle.