High-quality pitching from Ervin Santana and some offensive muscle from Jeff Mathis and Erick Aybar lifted the Angels to a much-needed 6-2 decision over the Rangers in front of 47,098 at Rangers Ballpark, shaving Texas' American League West lead back to six games.
"I think we went out and played our game," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said, deflecting a question about this being a desperate situation. "I saw nothing but good baseball. We know what we have to do on the field. I thought our guys executed well, played free.
"Nobody put a tag of must-win, anything like that. We need to play the game at a certain level on a consistent basis. If we do that, we have every confidence we're going to reach our goal.
"The story tonight was what Ervin Santana did. All our starters have pitched well here. Ervin pitched a terrific ballgame."
Rangers manager Ron Washington agreed wholeheartedly with Scioscia's assessment.
"Santana was good tonight, and we couldn't get anything going," Washington said. "Tonight we needed seven runs to win, and no team in the league was going to score seven runs the way Santana was throwing."
The Angels had scored only two runs in dropping the first two games of the series and are now 3-5 against Texas. Six of the eight games have been one-run decisions.
Mathis' solo homer in the fifth followed by Aybar's RBI triple gave Santana the upper hand against Scott Feldman. The Angels added a run in the sixth and three in the seventh, with newly-acquired Alberto Callaspo driving in a pair of runs.
Santana's shutout bid dissolved with two outs in the sixth inning when Michael Young launched his third home run in as many nights and No. 15 of the season, a drive to left center.
Ian Kinsler walked and stole second, but Santana retired Vladimir Guerrero on a sharp grounder to end the sixth.
"I thought Ervin and Jeff Mathis were terrific tonight," Scioscia said. "Great pitcher-catcher chemistry went a long way toward Ervin's outing.
"I thought he came inside well. His slider stayed sharp most of the night. He just made a couple mistakes with it. He changed speeds well and mixed in his changeup late."
Santana (9-7) has gone at least six innings in 17 of his 20 starts, leading the staff in innings pitched with 137. He yielded only five hits and two walks, striking out eight in eight innings.
Fernando Rodney finished the job by striking out the side in the ninth.
Santana made it through eight innings with 103 pitches and was hoping to produce his fourth complete game of the season, but Scioscia summoned Rodney, who hadn't pitched in six days.
"I told him to save the bullpen for [Sunday] and let me finish this," Santana said. "I was ready to go. Nothing else you can do. You're not going to change his mind."
Mathis unloaded his third homer of the season with two away in the fifth, giving the Angels their first lead of the series. The ball bounced off the top of the wall and into the crowd.
Reggie Willits followed with a single and raced home when Aybar stroked a triple into the right-field corner.
One-out singles by Torii Hunter and Hideki Matsui ended Feldman's night in the sixth, and Callaspo greeted Alexi Ogando with a single to center to cash in Hunter.
With former Angel Darren Oliver on the mound, Willits, Aybar and Maicer Izturis stroked consecutive singles to open the seventh. After he was unable to get a bunt down, Bobby Abreu doubled over the bag at first, scoring Aybar.
"Bobby thought it was important there [to move the runners up]," Scioscia said, agreeing that his No. 3 hitter could bunt in that situation. "He suggested to us he felt good doing it, so we went with it. It brought the first baseman [Chris Davis] in, and he hit it past him."
Matsui bounced into a force at home after an intentional walk to Hunter, and Callaspo's sacrifice fly scored Abreu.
Aybar had ended a run of nine consecutive outs to start the game by Feldman, who fell to 5-9. Left fielder Josh Hamilton reached Aybar's twisting fly ball down the left field line on a carom off the wall and fired a strike to erase him at second base. The single was the first of three hits by Aybar, who also walked.
Delivering in the No. 9 spot while replacing Juan Rivera in left field, Willits had two hits and scored twice.
"Reggie had a great game," Scioscia said. "He's kind of a spark at the bottom of the lineup. He got a two-out hit and scored on Aybar's triple."
Santana had allowed only two hits and a walk when Young drilled a 93mph fastball to left center to put the Rangers on the board.
Nelson Cruz lifted a solo shot to left, his 13th, in the seventh.
"I think, obviously, we're not really happy with the way we played," said Davis, who was stranded after a third-inning double. "We had very few opportunities to get guys in.
"Santana pitched a good game. He kept us off-balance and was really throwing the ball well. Throwing strikes, getting ahead of guys. We couldn't do much with him."
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.