ANAHEIM -- Ervin Santana kept making unconvincing statements, claiming he felt good physically and was on his way back even as his ERA hovered in the lower regions of mediocre. This was different. This was the truth, the whole truth, nothing but the truth. Putting elbow and forearm ailments behind him, Santana finally found his dominant 2008 All-Star form on Tuesday night in a three-hit, 6-0, complete-game dismissal of the Rays in front of 43,559 at Angel Stadium.
"We've seen it coming," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said, Santana having moved to 5-6 with his third career shutout, striking out six and walking two. "He's had much more life on his fastball, better command. He couldn't have pitched a better game." And this time, Santana didn't need to try to convince anyone he was all right. All it took was functional eyesight, from any seat in the house. "I didn't see many good pitches to hit, I'll just say that," Rays cleanup man Ben Zobrist said, having struck out twice in three at-bats. "He didn't really throw me anything that looked really good. He kept the ball just out of the zone. He threw his slider really well, I thought. He had me fooled tonight. "I think, overall, when you don't jump on him early, when he's throwing his fastball and he's able to get to his other stuff, he's pretty tough. ... He's real tough. And later on in the game he just started going to his offspeed stuff early. And even if you sit on it, it's not a great pitch to hit." Santana said he "had everything working," and Reggie Willits was convinced. "You should have seen him from center field," said Reggie Willits, who gave Gary Matthews Jr. a night off. "Ervin looked great. His ball was moving. Wherever [catcher Jeff] Mathis set up, he was there. I don't think Ervin missed his glove all night." The Angels' offense erupted in the middle innings against the explosive Price, scoring three times in the fifth and three more in the sixth, with Mathis centrally involved in both rallies. Mathis delivered a three-run double in the sixth after Reggie Willits' two-run, two-out single, followed by Chone Figgins' RBI single, had broken a scoreless duel in the fifth. "We've worked on being a lot quieter, shorter up there," Mathis said, referring to his stroke. Mathis kept a quick pace going with Santana, who took his sign and let it go. This kept the defense alive all night, an effort punctuated when shortstop Erick Aybar robbed Jason Bartlett with a sensational diving play for the second out in the ninth. "That's the best he's looked all year," Mathis said of Santana. "He had that one outing in Detroit where he almost went the distance [8 2/3 innings], but tonight he looked like he did last year. He was in command out there, and it was good to see. We need him." The Angels had been held hitless through four innings by Price before Juan Rivera's one-out single in the fifth broke the ice and started the uprising. Catcher Gregg Zahn's third-inning single and leadoff double in the sixth were the only Rays' hits until Evan Longoria singled leading off the seventh. Mathis, hitting .205 coming into the game, slashed a single before Willits' two-run single to center got the Angels on the board. "He made two good pitches to start the at-bat, and I didn't feel too good," Willits said. "But I hung with it. He threw me six straight fastballs. One had sink on it, another was a little straighter. Shoot, his changeup is 89. I finally put one in play, and that felt good." Price's first-pitch slider with the bases loaded was banged over Carl Crawford's head against the left-field fence by Mathis in the sixth after singles by Vladimir Guerrero, Kendry Morales and Howard Kendrick. Guerrero ran his hitting streak to 13 games. Angels shortstop Maicer Izturis was forced to leave the game in the fifth inning after suffering a contusion of his right elbow on a pitch by Price. Aybar also was hit by a pitch in the seventh, by reliever Brian Shouse, before making his sprawling stab to rob Bartlett and preserve the lowest-hit shutout of Santana's career. "Ervin definitely set the tone tonight," Scioscia said. "He was the story of the game. This is an important component, what Ervin brings to our rotation. "The last couple outings, his stuff has jumped out." In Chicago his previous time out, Santana left some of his "lights-out" stuff, as Scioscia put it, in the bullpen. He yielded four earned runs in six innings against the White Sox -- good enough to notch a win. This time, Santana carried his stuff to the mound and through nine dominant innings. "I felt very, very good," he said, smiling. The Angels go for a series sweep on Wednesday in a matinee behind right-hander Trevor Bell, making his Major League debut against right-hander Jeff Niemann.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.