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10/02/08 9:05 PM ET

Angels banking on refreshed Santana

Game 2 starter's turnaround began with start against ALDS foe

ANAHEIM -- Ervin Santana's comeback began in a start against the Red Sox last season after the right-hander had spent a month in Triple-A Salt Lake City. He needed a good start to regain a secure spot in the Angels' rotation, and he delivered.

At Fenway Park on Aug. 17, 2007, Santana lasted 6 1/3 innings, allowing one run on five hits. He did not walk a batter and struck out five. The Angels ultimately won, 7-5, and Santana was finally on his way back.

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"That game, I was trying to do my best," Santana said. "Whatever happens is going to happen, so you have to go up there and do your best. I came out and threw a lot of strikes and put the ball where I wanted to."

Santana needs to find that rhythm against the Red Sox once again. A 16-game winner and All-Star this season, Santana will face the Red Sox on Friday, when he starts Game 2 of the American League Division Series at Angel Stadium.

The Angels are down, 1-0, in the series, having taken a 4-1 loss on Wednesday night, and another defeat on Friday would put the Halos one game away from elimination with the series shifting to Boston.

Santana is hoping to start the Angels' comeback with a victory over the Red Sox, just as he got his own game back on track with that victory last Aug. 17 at Fenway Park. The Angels need a big game from Santana on Friday.

"We've got a lot of faith in him," Angels center fielder Torii Hunter said. "He's an All-Star. He has pitched well all season. He was second in the league in strikeouts. He can pitch, definitely. We just have to score some runs for him."

"Ervin is a great pitcher who has done well all year," second baseman Howie Kendrick said. "We'll be fine with him on the mound."

Angel Stadium, 6:37 p.m. PT
Red Sox starter: RHP Daisuke Matsuzaka
2008: 18-3, 2.90 ERA
2008 on road: 9-0, 2.37 ERA
2008 vs. Angels: 0-1, 10.80 ERA
Career vs. Angels: 0-1, 10.80 ERA
Career postseason: 2-1, 5.03 ERA (four starts)
Angels starter: RHP Ervin Santana
2008: 16-7, 3.49 ERA
2008 at home: 5-5, 4.03 ERA
2008 vs. Red Sox: Did not face BOS
Career vs. Red Sox: 1-2, 5.73 ERA
Career postseason: 1-1, 6.17 ERA (one start, two relief appearances)
Red Sox lead series, 1-0. Boston has beaten the Halos 10 consecutive times in the postseason, matching the longest stretch of playoff victories by one team over another.
Game 1: Red Sox 4, Angels 1
Did You Know? The last time the Angels beat the Red Sox in October was in 1986.

That night 14 months ago at Fenway Park was the last time Santana started against the Red Sox, and he is 1-2 with a 5.73 ERA against them in his career.

"It's going to be the same game -- baseball," Santana said. "You have to focus no matter what."

Santana has been focused all season, one year after going 7-14 with a 5.76 ERA while also spending a month at Triple-A. The demotion forced him to come to Spring Training and compete with Joe Saunders for the fifth spot in the Angels' rotation.

But early-season injuries to right-handers John Lackey and Kelvim Escobar opened the door for Santana, and he kicked it off its hinges with some of the best stuff seen around the AL.

"He has been hot from Day 1 in April to the end of the season -- Pedro Martinez-like," Angels lefty reliever Darren Oliver said. "He had to be born with a great arm, because you can't teach what he does."

Santana enters Game 2 having gone 16-7 with a 3.49 ERA during the regular season, a complete turnaround from his trying 2007 season and a better representation of what he showed in his first two seasons in the Major Leagues. The right-hander was a 16-game winner in 2006 and a 12-game winner as a rookie in '05.

"I think it's been very clear what Ervin's turnaround has been," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "He's an extremely talented young pitcher who really threw the ball well for us his first two seasons and then got in a mechanical rut. I think he tried to do some things that maybe were taking away from where he needed to be in his delivery.

"It took a lot of hard work, and for parts of last year, Ervin was down in Triple-A. But he pitched in winter ball, threw the ball very well, and in Spring Training, it took one bullpen [session] when you said, 'This guy is back, and if he can maintain those mechanics, he's going to have a big year for us.'"

Santana's problem last year was in his hip rotation, which generates power. At first, Santana was too short with his hips and not getting enough stuff on his pitches. Then, he overcompensated and lost command. By the middle of July, Santana was 5-11 with a 6.22 ERA and on his way to Salt Lake City.

"I was mad [when] I went down," Santana said, "because I didn't have a good year. I was just trying to focus and redo myself and get back confidence."

The confidence has returned, and so has the power. Santana was second in the AL this season with 214 strikeouts and third with 8.79 strikeouts per nine innings -- up from the ratio of 6.22 per nine innings that he posted in 2006.

Santana did not sacrifice command for power. This season, he walked 1.93 batters per nine innings, ninth best in the AL, and his ratio of 4.55 strikeouts for every walk was fifth best in the AL. Opponents' .283 on-base percentage against Santana was the second lowest in the AL.

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.