ANAHEIM, Calif. -- For one night at least, Ervin Santana reached back and found whatever he's been missing this season.
The right-hander, who won 16 games last season, came in 0-6 with an 8.28 ERA in his previous nine starts. During that drought, he was demoted to Triple-A Salt Lake on July 18 and remained there for a month.
"For a while, he wasn't giving us any good starts. But I don't think it was situation where if he struggled tonight, he was definitely out of the rotation," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "Obviously, we've getting to a point in the season where we need production and we need guys who go out there and give us a chance to win."
Santana (6-12) struck out four and walked five before he was replaced by rookie Rich Thompson with a 7-0 lead and a runner at first base. Santana left the field to a thunderous standing ovation and doffed his cap to the crowd of 39,164.
"To get Ervin back to throwing the ball well was a big boost for us," Scioscia said. "But even if he had stubbed his toe again, you still have to keep going with the guy and keep him pumped up in case he does get that opportunity and stay in the rotation."
Center fielder Gary Matthews Jr. did more to preserve Santana's scoreless outing than Thompson. He raced to left-center and backhanded Marco Scutaro's bid for an RBI double before Thompson fanned Kurt Suzuki to end the seventh.
Santana didn't sense he needed a big start to stay in the rotation for the final month of the regular season.
"I never thought about it. There was no pressure," he said through a translator. "I just thought that, hey, I'm a good pitcher. I'm going through some bad times and I'm not the first one to go through it. Whenever they put me in to pitch, I'm going to pitch. But never did it cross my mind that this was going to be a pressure situation for me."
Matthews, Jeff Mathis and Garret Anderson homered for the Angels, who maintained a 6½-game lead over second-place Seattle in the AL West.
Santana is 7-1 with a 1.40 ERA in nine starts against the Athletics. Both of their hits against him were singles by Mike Piazza, who was erased both times on double plays.
"I know his numbers aren't good, but he always has great stuff," Scutaro said. "He had good command. He was mixing his pitches pretty good and was hitting his spots. We had opportunities to score some runs, but he made good pitches when he had to. And that's what it's all about."
Santana walked his first two batters in the second, but neither advanced as Jack Hannahan looked at a called third strike, Scutaro flied out and Suzuki grounded into a force play. Santana walked Hannahan to open the fifth, and Suzuki reached on a fielding error by third baseman Maicer Izturis, but Stewart flied out and Nick Swisher struck out on a 3-2 breaking ball.
Chad Gaudin (10-10) allowed seven runs -- six earned -- and eight hits in five innings. He is 2-7 with a 6.58 ERA in 11 starts since the All-Star break, becoming the first Oakland pitcher to lose seven or more decisions after the break since Dave Telgheder in 1996. The A's are 14 games out of first, matching their largest deficit of the season.
Shannon Stewart homered leading off the eighth, and Piazza added a two-run shot later in the inning. Stewart's 11th of the season and Piazza's seventh both came off Thompson, who was pitching in his second big league game. Piazza's 426th homer tied Billy Williams for 39th place.
Matthews, who entered 1-for-14 against Gaudin, drove the right-hander's third pitch for his sixth career leadoff homer and second this season. The Angels made it 2-0 in the second when Izturis led off with a double over Swisher in center and scored on Howie Kendrick's sacrifice fly.
The Angels broke it open with five runs in the fifth. Mathis hit his second two-run homer in as many nights, Orlando Cabrera scored on a passed ball by Suzuki with the bases loaded, and Izturis singled home two runs after a two-out intentional walk to Anderson.