CHICAGO (AP) -- Johan Santana's mission was to give his beleaguered bullpen a rest. Turns out he did much more than that.
He held the Chicago White Sox hitless into the seventh and pitched the Minnesota Twins to a 5-1 victory Wednesday night and a sweep of their three-game series.Backed by two homers from Matthew LeCroy, Santana outpitched Mark Buehrle in a meeting of marquee lefthanders."With all respect to Buehrle, Randy Johnson and whoever, he's the best left-hander in the game right now," Chicago manager Ozzie
Guillen said of Santana.Santana (12-6) gave up six hits with one walk, and struck out 10 in 8 1/3 innings. He lost his no-hit bid when Carl Everett hit a bloop single to open the seventh, and Paul Konerko ended his shutout by leading off the ninth with his 31st homer."I tried to come in on Carl. He always gives me a tough time when I'm facing him," Santana said."After that it was like the game is not over yet and it's not the end of the world. It was nice, but I got to stay aggressive and hopefully win the game. That is all that matters to us right now. Win games," he said.And the Twins are doing just that. They've won six of their last seven, including a 9-4 victory in 16 innings Tuesday night that took more than five hours."People will say we're actually alive and that's not bad," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said.The White Sox lost their season-high fifth straight and continued their struggles at U.S. Cellular Field, where they are just 6-13 in their last 19 home games."We're in a little funk. I don't think anybody's worried about our lead," Buehrle said.Santana had retired 16 straight before Everett's hit. After Konerko struck out, Aaron Rowand got another soft single to right in the same spot but Santana fanned Jermaine Dye -- his final strikeout of the night-- and retired Juan Uribe on a popout. Chris Widger and Tadahito Iguchi had singles for Chicago in the eighth, and Rowand followed Konerko's homer with a double."He works ahead in the count. He throws 93 to 95 mph and puts one of the best changeups in the game behind it," Widger said. "When he's on, he's going to shut down lineups."Mixing a blistering fastball in the mid 90s with the changeup, Santana set the White Sox down in order in the second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth innings.He hit leadoff hitter Pablo Ozuna with a pitch and walked Konerko in the first but struck out Rowand on a 3-2 pitch, ending an inning in which he threw 26 pitches.The closest the White Sox got to a hit in the first six innings came in the fourth when Everett drove a pitch to the left field fence that Brent Abernathy caught.Santana's teammates made it easier for him by jumping out to a 5-0 lead against Buehrle (13-6) as LeCroy hit solo homers in his first two at-bats."I know who Mark Buehrle is. I knew it would be tough. We got ahead and put up some runs and from there I was just trying to protect the lead," said Santana, who'd pitched a three-hit shutout against Oakland in his last start five days ago."I was trying to go as deep as I could. I knew we needed that kind of performance because of the type of game we had last night," he added. "I was trying to do the job like I always do."LeCroy homered to left center in the second and to right in the fourth off Buehrle, giving him 12 for the season. He popped out and walked in his next two at-bats.The Twins added three more in the fifth, thanks to some White Sox miscues.After two singles and a sacrifice put runners at first and third, Buehrle was called for a balk when he tried to pick Lew Ford
off first, allowing Mike Redmond to score from third and make it 3-0.Ford took second on the call, stole third and scored on Nick Punto's sacrifice fly. Abernathy followed with a double and scored for a 5-0 lead when Konerko booted Justin Morneau's grounder for an error."I've been doing that for four years," Buehrle said of his pickoff move ruled a balk by first base umpire Jerry Layne. "He said, 'You've got to come to first.' I don't know how I didn't since I threw the ball there. That's a big deal. It goes from 2-0 to 5-0."Buehrle, 13-9 in his career against the Twins, his most wins against any opponent, also lost to Santana on April 10 at the Metrodome.Buehrle gave up eight hits and five runs -- four earned -- with two walks and seven strikeouts in seven-plus.
It was LeCroy's fourth career multi-homer game. His last came on May 10, 2003, against the Red Sox. ... Buehrle has picked off 37 runners in his career, including five this season and AL-high 10 a year ago. It was his first balk since 2002 and seventh of his career.