MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- It's the middle of August and the Minnesota Twins are in the playoff hunt.
That has meant one thing over the past four seasons -- it's
Santana time.Johan Santana threw eight shutout innings of three-hit ball,
pitching Minnesota to a 4-1 victory over the Cleveland Indians on
Santana's Stellar Starts
At the Metrodome
(since Aug. 2, 2005)
"That's what we call a baller," Twins center fielder Torii Hunter said. "He smells that wild card. I smell that wild card.
We've both been around. We've been in the playoffs. We know what it
takes to get there."Michael Cuddyer drove in two runs and Joe Mauer had an RBI
single for the Twins, who stopped Cleveland's six-game winning
streak and pulled within two games of Chicago in the AL wild-card
race. Santana (14-5) struck out nine and walked one before Joe Nathan gave up an RBI single to Travis Hafner in the ninth."One of the best pitchers in the game, if not THE best pitcher
in the game, shut them down," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said.Santana is 18-1 with a 1.80 ERA and 174 strikeouts in 21 August
starts dating to 2002."I always try to get better and better and better every
start," said Santana, who is pitching with a painful blister and
split nail on his left middle finger.Indians right-hander Jake Westbrook (9-8) was fantastic for 7
2/3 innings, but fell apart with two outs in the eighth.The Twins were clinging to a 1-0 lead when Luis Castillo singled
and Mauer was intentionally walked. Castillo and Mauer then pulled
off a double steal before Cuddyer's two-run single brought the
Metrodome crowd to its feet.Hunter added an RBI single to cap the three-run inning.
Westbrook gave up four runs and eight hits in eight innings."My job is to keep the team in the ballgame and I didn't do
it," Westbrook said. "My job is to put up a zero in the eighth to
give us a chance in the ninth."Santana's performance should come as no surprise. He simply does
not lose at the Metrodome.The 2004 AL Cy Young Award winner has not lost in the Dome since
Aug. 1, 2005, going 12-0 in his last 19 home starts. It's the best
such streak for a Twins pitcher since Frank Viola went 19-0 in 24
home starts from 1987-88.For Westbrook, it seemed to be a matter of bad timing.The last time he was here, Westbrook was solid, giving up three
runs over six innings. But Twins lefty Francisco Liriano was even
better in Minnesota's 3-1 victory.This time, Westbrook was outpitched by another left-hander."With a guy like that, I need to be on my game," Westbrook
said. "I put up a lot of zeros, but not enough."Aside from warning-track shots by Hector Luna in the fourth and
Ryan Garko in the eighth, the Indians were completely baffled by
Santana. He retired 14 of 15 batters after walking Grady Sizemore
in the third and struck out Jhonny Peralta and Kelly Shoppach three
times each.Santana got a little help from his defense in the seventh, when
Luna hit what looked like a sure double down the right-field line.
But Cuddyer tracked it down in the corner and threw out Luna at
second with a one-hop strike.The Twins got on the board in the third after Jason Bartlett
doubled and advanced to third on a sacrifice by Castillo.Mauer, who entered the game in a 1-for-11 skid, followed by
muscling a grounder through the right side for a 1-0 lead.And after Westbrook intentionally walked Mauer in the eighth to
get to Cuddyer, the cleanup hitter gave the Twins all the insurance
they needed. Cuddyer has been in that situation plenty of times
this season."That's because the guy in front of me is hitting .370,"
Cuddyer said, referring to Mauer. "I take great pride in that
situation, because if you don't come through, they continue to do
that. Hopefully, Joe will start getting some of those opportunities
and they won't walk him. But until then, I have to come through."
Sizemore made a highlight-reel catch in the fifth. Luis
Rodriguez drove the ball to the right-center gap, and Sizemore
raced about 30 yards and crashed into the wall as he made the grab.
... Indians 2B Luna did him one better in the sixth, making a
leaping stop on a grounder in the hole by Mauer and throwing him
out at first. ... Twins 3B Nick Punto sat out with a bruised knee.
Rodriguez started in his place and LF Jason Tyner batted in Punto's
No. 2 slot. ... The Indians are the second-youngest team in
baseball behind Florida. The Twins are third.