Santana strikes out 10, Angels defeat Devil Rays 2-1 for 90th victory of season

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ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP)—Ervin Santana has gotten his control and confidence back. Just in time for the playoffs, too.

Santana struck out 10, Juan Rivera homered and the Los Angeles Angels beat Tampa Bay 2-1 Wednesday for their 90th victory of the season and eighth straight at home over the Devil Rays.

“It’s good to win when you’re not scoring a lot of runs,” said Angels manager Mike Scioscia, who earned his 699th victory.

The Angels reduced their magic number for clinching their third AL West title in four years to three. They remained 8 1/2 games ahead of second-place Seattle, which beat Oakland 9-5.

Los Angeles has won 90 games for the fourth time in six seasons.

Santana (7-13) allowed one run and six hits in 6 1-3 innings as the replacement starter for Bartolo Colon, who developed back stiffness after pitching 4 2-3 innings Friday against the Chicago White Sox.

“His mechanics are better,” Scioscia said of Santana. “He’s been preached to all year, he just had trouble putting it all together. He made some key pitches in key situations.”

With Los Angeles leading 2-1 in the sixth, Santana escaped a bases-loaded jam when Jorge Velandia flied out with two outs. Santana tipped his cap as he left to loud cheers for his first victory since beating Oakland 9-5 on Sept. 3.

“He was keeping the ball down,” Angels catcher Jeff Mathis said. “When he keeps that slider down, he’s pretty tough. He’s going right at people.”

Santana had missed his last start because the Angels activated Colon. The right-hander was moved to the bullpen when Colon returned to the rotation.

Santana had allowed two earned runs in his last 15 innings coming into Wednesday, which spanned two starts and one relief appearance. At various times, his control had been an issue, with him leaving too many pitches up in the zone and walking too many batters.

“I’m working hard at it and forgetting everything negative that has happened in the past,” he said in Spanish through a translator. “Once I turn my hips better, my balance starts out better and I can keep the ball down. When I’m right, that’s what I’m doing without thinking about it.”

Santana recently studied video of himself from last season and noticed his mechanics had changed.

“I still think last year I was more consistent,” he said.

Francisco Rodriguez pitched the ninth for his 37th save in 42 chances, walking Velandia with two outs before striking out pinch-hitter Dioner Navarro on a full-count pitch.

J.P. Howell (1-5) gave up two runs and five hits in six innings, struck out eight and walked one in losing his fifth consecutive decision. The left-hander dropped to 0-4 in six road starts.

“The command on my off-speed stuff was big. They got me behind a few times and I had to throw it in there, but it worked out,” Howell said. “The pitch to Rivera was a hard changeup at 83, so the speed was terrible. It was too hard and it was perfect for him. It was down and in and I wanted him to swing on top of it.”

Rivera’s homer in the second inning made it 1-0. His other home run this year was Sept. 16 at Chicago.

A two-out RBI single by Mathis in the fourth extended the lead to 2-0. Howie Kendrick singled, took second on a wild pitch and came home on Mathis’ hit to left field. After Mathis’ single, Tampa Bay retired the Angels’ final 13 batters.

The Devil Rays have three 2-1 losses in their last six games.

“We’ve had some really good pitching performances and some really good hitting performances. It’s just unfortunate that we haven’t been able to morph them into the same day often enough,” said manager Joe Maddon, a former Angels coach.

Tampa Bay’s run came on Jonny Gomes’ 16th homer, on the first pitch from Santana opening the fifth.

“He’s always been successful against us,” Gomes said about Santana. “He’s got 94 with three other good pitches, and when he’s commanding his offspeed, it makes his fastball that much harder to hit.”

Notes

Scioscia and his coaching staff sought out umpire Bruce Froemming to shake hands after the game. Froemming plans to retire at the end of the postseason. … The Angels won the season series 6-2 and improved to 29-7 at home against the Devil Rays since 2000, the best home mark against any opponent in that stretch. … Tampa Bay went 3-7 on its trip and returns home for a three-game series against AL East-leading Boston on Friday. … Santana’s season high for strikeouts is 11 against Texas on July 3.

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