ARLINGTON, Texas -- One more mistake and it would have been road kill revisited, with the same questions that dogged Ervin Santana during an erratic 2007 season haunting him again.
The Angels right-hander gave up three runs in the first inning Monday night, two on Hank Blalock's home run, and appeared on the verge of giving up a two-run lead in the third when the Texas Rangers loaded the bases with one out.
But shortstop Erick Aybar fielded Marlon Byrd's tough-hop grounder to start an inning-ending double play, and Santana retired 12 of the next 13 batters to lead the Angels to a 7-4 victory at Rangers Ballpark.
"That was a big play in the game, he's a tough guy to double up," Manager Mike Scioscia said. "Ervin's stuff definitely got better as the game went on. He started pounding the strike zone with everything. You really saw his stuff come to life."
A little pep talk from catcher Mike Napoli, who came to the mound after Texas loaded the bases, might have helped.
"He's confident, and he has great stuff; we get in his head and let him know that," Napoli said. "Then he starts believing it and throwing every pitch the best he can. He really turned it on."
Santana (2-0) worked seven innings, giving up three runs and seven hits, striking out six and walking one, but he needed some assistance from the bullpen to preserve the victory.
Aybar's throwing error and singles by Milton Bradley and Blalock off Justin Speier pulled the Rangers within 7-4 in the eighth, but with two on, Scot Shields struck out pinch-hitter David Murphy and retired Frank Catalanotto on a grounder.
Francisco Rodriguez, slowed because of a sprained right ankle, retired the side in order in the ninth for his fourth save, lowering the Angels bullpen earned-run average from 6.89 -- the worst in the major leagues entering Monday -- to 6.49.
"I knew we weren't doing well, but I didn't realize we were as bad as we were," said Shields, who saw the ranking in a local paper. "That was definitely a shock. We know we have the talent to be one of the best bullpens in the league, but we're not pitching like it."
Speier (6.75 ERA) and left-hander Darren Oliver (5.68) are struggling, but Shields, slowed by forearm tightness earlier this month, and Rodriguez appear to be regaining their form.
"We're getting back to our roles, and that's huge because we know when to get ready to pitch in certain situations," Shields said. "It's also good to have Frankie back at what seems like full strength."
Offense doesn't seem to be a problem. Casey Kotchman hit a two-out, two-run single off Jason Jennings in the first, and the Angels added three in the second on Napoli's home run, Vladimir Guerrero's double and Garret Anderson's single.
Guerrero led off the fifth with a single and scored on Maicer Izturis clutch two-out single. Another run scored when Izturis' hit got by Byrd in right field for an error.
Guerrero tormented the Rangers in 57 games from 2004 to 2006, hitting .431 with 22 home runs and 45 runs batted in against them.
But since the start of 2007, when Texas Manager Ron Washington began employing a shift against him, putting three infielders on the left side, Guerrero is batting .338 (27 for 80) with one homer and 14 RBIs in 23 games against the Rangers.
"We've seen it before -- I don't think it's a function of the shift," Scioscia said. "Vlad doesn't change his game. I don't know if anyone really expects a hitter to keep up the pace he was going against these guys."
Guerrero, with the Rangers in their shift, drove his run-scoring double off the wall in right in the second. He beat the shift with a single to center in the fifth.