Santana shuts down Royals, helps Twins avoid sweep

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Two of Minnesota's best starting pitchers are ailing, and the Twins are trying to stay in postseason contention.

Johan Santana shrugged off the burden and got another big win.

Dominant at the Metrodome again, Santana struck out 11 in seven innings to help Minnesota end a three-game losing streak with a 3-1 win over the Kansas City Royals on Thursday.

"It's his ballgame. He's the man," manager Ron Gardenhire said.

Rondell White homered for the Twins, who moved within five games of first-place Detroit in the AL Central and a half-game behind Chicago in the AL wild-card race.

With rookie Francisco Liriano still working through soreness and weakness in his left arm and veteran Brad Radke fighting persistent pain in his right shoulder, making the playoffs will be tough with a suddenly inexperienced rotation.

But as long as Santana is around, anything is possible.

"I don't try to put pressure on myself or anything like that," Santana said. "I just want to do my job. Hopefully everyone will get together and win some games."

Esteban German's just-barely home run in the sixth inning was the only score against Santana (16-5), who leads the league with a 2.95 ERA and is 7-0 in the second half. He walked one, gave up five hits and threw 109 pitches.

Against the team with the worst record in baseball and pitching at home, a victory by Santana was a pretty safe bet. He has not lost in his last 21 starts in Minnesota, going 14-0 since Aug. 6, 2005.

"We ran into Cy Young," said Kansas City's Mike Sweeney, who went 1-for-4. "Johan is the top pitcher we've faced this year."

Royals starter Jorge De La Rosa (1-2) gave up two runs, six hits and three walks while striking out three and pitching into the sixth -- when he said he changed his motion. He left the bases loaded for reliever Joel Peralta, who bailed him out by getting Torii Hunter to ground into a double play that scored Mike Redmond
for the go-ahead run and striking out White.

That run was the last bit of support Santana needed. Pat Neshek
pitched a scoreless eighth, and Joe Nathan did the same in the ninth for his 28th save.

Jason Bartlett hustled for a double and then scored an extra run in the eighth, when he stole third and came home on catcher John Buck's throwing error.

"We're struggling right now to score runs, so you've just got to make something happen," Bartlett said.

White has had a miserable season after signing with Minnesota for $2.5 million to be the designated hitter -- a spot that remains a hole in the lineup. His bat showed some signs of life after the All-Star break, but then he hurt his hamstring and has been useless this month. The two-out homer he hit off De La Rosa in the second inning ended an 0-for-11 drought. White went 4-for-28 in August.

Since winning two games against the White Sox last weekend to take the wild-card lead, the Twins lost their edge at the plate despite bringing the best team batting average (.286) in the majors into this game.

They went 19 innings without scoring until Michael Cuddyer's Wednesday night homer, and the aggressive, relentless hitters Chicago manager Ozzie Guillen started calling the piranhas last weekend have been swimming upstream lately.

"I know people are saying we can't do this and we can't do that, jumping off the bandwagon," Gardenhire said. "But sometimes you tip your hat to the other side."

A struggling offense can often still win behind Santana. In the fifth, he struck out Jeff Keppinger on a high changeup and Andres Blanco on a down-and-in fastball with Buck stuck on third. In the seventh with runners at the corners, he struck out Keppinger and pinch-hitter Mark Grudzielanek to end that threat.

"He's a class act," Sweeney said. "He's the kind of guy who when you're not playing for the Twins, you root for. We had good pitching all series, but unfortunately today we ran into an excellent pitcher."

Game notes
Santana posted his 30th career double-digit strikeout game. This is also his third straight season with 200 strikeouts or more. Walter Johnson, Camilo Pascual and Bert Blyleven are the only others in franchise history to do the same. ... Kansas City has not swept a series on the road since July 11-13, 2003, at Texas. That's a span of 85 series.