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Santana dominant in beating A's

Santana dominant in beating A's

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OAKLAND -- On Thursday and Friday, Angels starters allowed a staggering 13 runs in 8 1/3 innings. Before Saturday's game, an everyday player pondered whether the subpar pitching was a function of the upcoming All-Star break. In anticipation of the four-day vacation, the player said, some guys' minds start wandering prematurely.

It's not a matter of not caring, rather an aspect of human nature.

Well, Ervin Santana won't have those four days off. He earned his first spot on the All-Star roster last week. On Saturday against the A's at McAfee Coliseum, he pitched like he deserved that nomination.

Santana didn't need much offensive assistance in a 4-1 victory, striking out a season-high 10 batters in seven shutout innings. During his dominance, just one Oakland batter reached third base, and the A's didn't get more than four at-bats in any inning but the seventh.

The victory was Santana's eighth away from home and the Angels' 30th. Despite losing six of their past 10 road games, they still have the best road mark in the Majors. Amid questions regarding their recent pitching performances, the Angels managed their 56th win of the season, tops in franchise-history before the All-Star break.

That's a fair collection of numbers to possess one game before the Midsummer Classic.

Santana's brilliance shouldn't come as a surprise. In four starts against Oakland this year, he's 2-0 with 27 innings pitched and four runs allowed. Before Saturday's action, Santana had an 8-1 record against the A's in 12 starts, tallying a 1.48 ERA in 85 1/3 innings.

Mixing a fastball in the mid-to-high 90-mph range, a nasty slider and an occasional changeup, Santana kept the A's off the board and confused batter after batter with his knee-buckling breaking ball.

Santana missed his career high for strikeouts (11), but managed double-digits K's for the fourth time in his career.

Alas, the young righty insisted his slider wasn't even his best pitch.

"To me, it was not good enough," Santana said. "I have better than that. I don't feel that I had a lot of power, energy."

If that's true, the rest of the American League is in trouble.

Santana got into trouble just once, when Mark Ellis and Daric Barton opened the seventh frame with back-to-back singles and Jack Hannahan advanced them with a groundout. But Santana, still throwing in the high-90s, struck out Donnie Murphy and Kurt Suzuki on a pair of sliders -- the one to Suzuki ending up in the dirt.

"He maintained his stuff; he had command of it," manager Mike Scioscia said. "He made some great pitches. Tonight, Ervin really made pitches from the get-go."

The Angels offense got on the board from the get-go, too.

Erick Aybar drew a one-out walk in the first inning. After he reached third on Torii Hunter's single, Aybar came home on Dana Eveland's wild pitch. Hunter then scored on Howie Kendrick's line-drive single to center field.

On his 25th birthday, Kendrick continued his recent hitting tear with a pair of singles in four at-bats. He's hitting .400 in his past 10 games. No other Angels player recorded multiple hits, but every starter except Gary Matthews Jr. reached base.

After a 31-pitch first inning, Eveland (7-6) settled down. Santana, though, was settled from the start.

Both the A's and Angels scored later in the game, but those runs didn't affect the outcome. Juan Rivera and Vladimir Guerrero had RBI singles in the seventh and ninth innings, respectively, and Oakland finally got on the board in the eighth on Carlos Gonzales's RBI double against Scot Shields.

Francisco Rodriguez, though, was lights-out as usual. He entered in the final frame and earned his 37th save, highlighted by a changeup that fooled Suzuki on a 2-2 pitch after he threw four straight heaters.

The electric closer increased his record of most saves before the All-Star break but spoke more reverentially about Santana than himself.

"He's got the stuff to be one of the greatest pitchers in the AL," Rodriguez said.

Santana will show the rest the National League that stuff next week in the All-Star Game, where he'll go alongside Rodriguez and Joe Saunders, whose wife had the couple's first child, a daughter named Matea, Saturday night.

Not a bad day for an Angels pitching staff that was tagged for 19 runs in the past two days.

David Biderman is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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