Matthews' two-out single in the ninth inning drove home Sean Rodriguez from second base to give the Angels a 3-2 victory over the Tigers before 36,569 at Angel Stadium on Tuesday night.
"You look at the effort Santana had tonight," Matthews said of the right-hander's complete-game three-hitter, "and I was feeling bad we hadn't done more for him. He's played with heart and with a purpose. When you see that, you want to win for him."
Santana, who began the season 6-0 and dropped to 6-2 in his last two starts, struck out seven and walked none. He gave up a two-run home run to Miguel Cabrera in the second inning but kept his cool -- not to mention his command -- throughout.
After Cabrera's home run, Santana (7-2) said, "I just tried to concentrate on the next hitter. ... If I get angry, I try to overthrow, and I don't want that."
How effective was Santana? He never went to a 2-0 count all evening, threw 20 first-pitch strikes, and allowed only three batters to amass a three-ball count.
"Outside of the pitch to Cabrera, Ervin was on top of his game," said manager Mike Scioscia. "That's as well as you can pitch against a tough lineup. He was very, very consistent with his mechanics and his stuff."
Santana said his performance wasn't necessarily a departure from what he'd been doing in losses to the Dodgers and Blue Jays in his last two starts.
"I felt the same, was doing the same thing I've been doing," the right-hander said.
Santana's performance eclipsed that of his counterpart, right-hander Jeremy Bonderman, who went 7 1/3 innings, the first four without surrendering a hit. Bonderman walked away with a no-decision, having given up two runs, both earned, on six hits while striking out seven and walking one.
The Angels' eighth inning featured a pinch-hit, leadoff infield single by Reggie Willits, who went to second on Rodriguez's single. After Maicer Izturis sacrificed the runners to second and third, reliever Francisco Cruceta's wild pitch allowed Willits to score, Rodriguez moving to third. Garret Anderson singled home Rodriguez to tie it.
Aquilino Lopez came on in the ninth for the Tigers and quickly retired Jeff Mathis and Robb Quinlan before walking Rodriguez and Izturis.
Matthews' game-winner came on the first pitch he saw from Lopez.
"I was just looking to stay aggressive," Matthews said.
Matthews, Tuesday night's designated hitter, noted that he's had his share of RBIs this season, then kidded himself for his batting average in the low .200s.
He closed the evening on a collaborative note, recalling a recent conversation with center fielder Torii Hunter.
"He was talking about the way we win games, and saying someone was going to [get hot]," Matthews said. "I told him, 'This is the way we win, with timely hitting, good pitching and solid defense. We don't have that 30-40 homer guy, so this is the way we have to win."
Ted Brock is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.