Santana settles down to stifle Rangers

Santana settles down to stifle Rangers

ARLINGTON -- Ervin Santana never has pitched particularly well in Texas, and the manner in which he blew an early lead Monday night hinted at another short night in the Lone Star State.

But a funny thing happened before 16,541 at Rangers Ballpark. Santana righted himself, and in the end emerged with his second victory and third quality start of the season, pitching seven innings in a 7-4 triumph over the Rangers.

Casey Kotchman's two-run single in the first inning gave the Angels a promising start to this two-game series. But just as quickly, Santana gave the lead away by allowing three runs in the bottom of the first on a sacrifice fly from Michael Young and a two-run homer by Hank Blalock.

Fortunately for the Angels, Rangers starter Jason Jennings (0-3) proved even less capable of holding a lead. He gave up a leadoff homer to Angels catcher Mike Napoli (No. 4) on a 2-2 pitch to start the second inning, then Vladimir Guerrero and Garret Anderson drove in two more runs for a 5-3 Angels advantage.

However, it wasn't long before Santana wobbled out on his tightrope again.

Singles by Josh Hamilton and Milton Bradley, followed by a walk to Blalock, loaded the bases for Texas with one out in the third. But when the speedy Marlon Byrd hit a first-pitch grounder straight to shortstop Erick Aybar, the Angels turned a nifty double play to escape the inning.

"That was a big play in that game," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "He started throwing the ball better after that."

Indeed Santana did. He was 1-4 with a dreadful 8.92 ERA in seven previous starts in Texas. But he looked like a new man after that double play, pitching with the purpose and venom which was lacking in his first three innings.

After escaping that third-inning jam, Santana (2-0) retired 12 of the next 13 hitters before giving way to his bullpen in the eighth. He had thrown 105 pitches, 68 for strikes.

"E's stuff definitely got better as the game went on," Scioscia said. "Once he found it, he really started pounding the strike zone and his stuff came to life."

Said Napoli: "He had good stuff, he just had to get ahead. I guess he just turned it on."

Santana's opponent never did. Jennings gave up two more runs (one earned) in the fifth when Byrd let a single by Maicer Izturis skip under his glove and roll to the warning track with two on and two out. Jennings' ERA swelled to 8.79, and the Dallas native is yet to see the sixth inning for his new team after three starts.

"They were not chasing balls you would expect them to swing at," Rangers manager Ron Washington offered in his pitcher's defense.

The night was not without some difficulty for the Angels.

Reliever Justin Speier struggled again, allowing an unearned run in the bottom of the eighth. After a one-out error by Aybar, Speier gave up back-to-back singles to Bradley and Blalock to give up a score and bring the potential tying run on deck. Scot Shields hurried in to put out the fire with a strikeout and groundout to end the eighth, and Francisco Rodriguez pitched a perfect ninth for his fourth save.

The Angels uncharacteristically started the day with the worst bullpen ERA in the Majors (6.89). Though Speier couldn't keep a run off the board, the lack of earned runs over the bullpen's two innings trimmed that unsightly mark to 6.49.

Scioscia wasn't able to watch his bullpen's heroics from the dugout. The top of the eighth ended when the Angels had the bases loaded and Guerrero took what he thought was a full-count ball from Rangers reliever Jamey Wright. Guerrero tossed his bat and started toward first, only to be called out on strikes by home-plate umpire Joe West.

Scioscia disputed the call from the dugout steps, then confronted West on the field. Within seconds, West threw Scioscia from the game, the manager's first ejection this season and 18th of his career.

"Joe is a good umpire, but I don't know if I've ever seen him miss one like that," said Scioscia, who found it prudent to keep his clubhouse closed an additional 11 minutes past the 10-minute cool-off period mandated by Major League Baseball.

Bench coach Ron Roenicke managed the final 1 1/2 innings in Scioscia's stead.

Ken Daley is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.