<
>

Santana comes through for 15th win of 2005

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Even though the Minnesota Twins have been
eliminated from the playoffs, their ace proved it isn't time to
stop trying.

Johan Santana allowed six hits over seven innings, keeping his
bid for a second consecutive Cy Young Award alive, and the Twins
snapped their four-game losing streak with a 3-1 victory over the
Kansas City Royals on Tuesday night.

"Even though we're out of contention, we still have some things
to do," Santana said, referring to the Cy Young Award. "It would
be good for the fans, good for my teammates and good for myself to
do something special."

He gave up four hits in the first two innings, but didn't allow
another hit until Matthew Diaz's solo homer in the seventh. After
the homer, Paul Phillips doubled and reached third on Donnie
Murphy's sacrifice bunt. But Santana retired Andres Blanco and Chip
Ambres to escape the inning.

"He didn't even look like he was sweating, for God's sakes,"
Royals manager Buddy Bell said. "You've got to at least sweat."

He struck out six, running his major league-leading total to
229, and walked two before being relieved by Juan Rincon in the
eighth inning. Joe Nathan pitched a perfect ninth for his 40th
save.

Royals starter Runelvys Hernandez began the game by walking Nick
Punto and Luis Rodriguez. A passed ball by Phillips allowed Punto
to advance to third. Joe Mauer's single scored Punto, and Lew Ford
drove in Rodriguez with a sacrifice fly two batters later.

After the first inning, Hernandez allowed one hit over the next
four innings. But against Santana, that wasn't good enough.

Following the shaky start, Santana retired nine straight and 11
of 13, helping the Twins bounce back from an embarrassing 5-0 loss
to Kansas City on Monday.

"We hit some balls decent, but we made some early count outs
that hurt us," Bell said.

Diaz and Phillips each had two hits for the Royals.

Minnesota put the game away in the bottom of the seventh. Luis
Rivas singled and Punto doubled to start the inning. Rodriguez's
sacrifice fly scored Rivas and chased Hernandez (5-13).

The loss continued a difficult two months for Hernandez, who
allowed three runs and five hits and walked four in 6 1/3 innings.
He hasn't posted a victory since winning for the third straight
time on July 22. He was suspended for 10 games in July and was on
the disabled list from Aug. 26-Sept. 6 with lower back tightness.

"I know we got the loss, but we did all we could do,"
Hernandez said. "I felt like my fastball was working after the
first inning. It's Johan Santana out there, and you've got to
battle back."

Santana's 2.92 ERA ties him with Cleveland's Kevin Millwood for
first in the AL and gives him at least a share of the lead in two
of the three major pitching categories. He trails Anaheim's Bartolo
Colon by five wins, but he said he still considers himself a
contender.

"I never give up. What's going to happen, I don't know,"
Santana said. "But we're going to make it close.

"I wanted to show it wasn't a fluke last year. The numbers are
there and the stats are there."

And though his team's offense might be the biggest reason
Santana is a long shot, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire made his
opinion clear.

"(Santana) already has done everything he can do. He can't vote
for himself," Gardenhire said. "I hope they don't punish the
pitcher for the problems our offense has had this year. He's a
pitcher. He's the man."

Game notes
The Twins scored in the first inning for the first time
since Aug. 30. They were 8-16 in that span. ... Santana has an 8-2
record and 1.88 ERA since the All-Star break. ... Nathan became the
third Twins pitcher to record 40 saves in consecutive seasons,
joining Rick Aguilera (1991-92) and Eddie Guardado (2002-03). ...
Diaz's homer was his first since Sept. 22, 2004, which came against
the Royals when he was with Tampa Bay.