Angels starter Ervin Santana delivers a pitch during the Angels'… (Jim Rogash / Getty Images )
BOSTON — Ervin Santana, Angels ace? A month ago, that seemed as unlikely a pairing as Mike Trout, busted prospect, or Mike Scioscia, swimsuit model.
Santana was so bad during a four-start stretch in late June and July, going 0-2 with a 13.50 earned-run average, that he was nearly pulled from the rotation.
But after pitching aggressively and effectively in a 5-3 victory over the Boston Red Sox in Tuesday night's meeting of Underachievers Not-So-Anonymous in Fenway Park, Santana, who gave up two runs and five hits in 61/3 innings, is clearly the most reliable pitcher in a rotation that has done a late-summer swoon.
Angels starters began Tuesday with a 3-7 record and 6.53 ERA in August, putting a major drag on a club that lost 13 of 18 games.
But the Angels have won in Santana's five starts since July 30, the right-hander going 3-0 with a 3.52 ERA during the stretch, giving up 12 runs and 23 hits, striking out 20 and walking six.
Santana, who helped the Angels end a losing streak at four games, struck out only four Tuesday, but one was huge, a whiff of cleanup batter Adrian Gonzalez with runners on first and third to end the third inning.
"He was on a tough roll where he didn't have a lot to go out there and compete with," Scioscia said. "But Ervin has done it before. We've seen him bounce back after some tough starts. The slump he had was a little longer than we've seen, but we have a lot of confidence in Ervin."
Run-scoring singles by Albert Pujols in the third and Erick Aybar and Chris Iannetta in the fourth gave Santana a 3-0 cushion, and Mark Trumbo pulverized an Aaron Cook fastball in the fifth, sending it over the Volvo sign above the Green Monster in left-center field for a two-run home run (estimated distance: 440 feet) and a 5-0 lead.
"That ball was absolutely killed," Scioscia said.
Trumbo has been in a slump, hitting .212 (24 for 113) with three extra-base hits, all home runs, in 29 games, but a wicked liner to center field in his first at-bat Tuesday may have been a sign he was snapping out of it.
"When you see middle infielders reacting like a third baseman on the hot corner," Scioscia said, "you know the ball is scorched."
Trumbo struck out in the fourth inning but had a Cook-out in the fifth, crushing a pitch for his team-high 30th home run.
"It was a fastball ... it caught some plate," Trumbo deadpanned.
Asked if he found something, Trumbo said, "I can't pinpoint one thing; it just feels more like my swing when things are going well. I always try to drive the ball, and maybe I've been a little over-aggressive. I tried to tone it down a bit."
Santana gave up a two-run home run to Jarrod Saltalamacchia in the sixth, and the Red Sox scored on Jordan Walden's wild pitch in the seventh, but Kevin Jepsen, Scott Downs and Ernesto Frieri (15th save) closed out a win that Santana (7-10) set the tone for.
"You can put down fingers and you have confidence he's going to make that pitch," Iannetta, the Angels catcher, said of Santana. "He's not going to fall behind. You have more things you can go to. When he's not going well, you have to stick to the generic stuff -- fastball, fastball, fastball."