Santana clips Mets in Twins' rout
Starter throws first complete-game shutout of 2007
NEW YORK -- Riding over on the team bus to Shea Stadium on Tuesday, Johan Santana and Bert Blyleven got into a little discussion about Santana's impending start that night against the Mets.Blyleven told Santana not to be afraid to throw a shutout. Ever the competitor, Santana said he was up for the challenge but wanted to know the stakes. So the former Twins pitcher and current TV color analyst said he would shave his head if the feat was completed. Bring on the clippers. Santana threw just the fourth career complete-game shutout of his career on Tuesday, limiting the Mets to just four hits in a 9-0 victory. "Done deal," Santana said with a big smile when asked about the wager. "It's going to happen [Wednesday]." The rarity of Santana's feat likely had an impact on the bet. After all, it was Santana's first shutout in nearly two years, the last coming on Aug. 12, 2005, at Oakland. And it was just the sixth complete game of Santana's career. More impressive than anything was the way Santana (7-6) produced this victory. Known by the entire league as a strikeout pitcher, Santana recorded just one on the night, and it didn't come until the ninth inning. Only twice in his career had Santana been limited to just one punchout in an outing. But lack of K's likely had more to do with the opposing team's approach than Santana's initial plan of attack. Run support was something that Santana hadn't seen much of this season. He even vented some frustration following his last start, saying that maybe he needed to change things up by staying in games longer and throwing extra pitches. Runs weren't a problem on Tuesday night, as the Twins delivered nine of them on 13 hits. The club knocked out Mets starter Jorge Sosa after just 3 1/3 innings, tagging him for seven runs (five earned) on eight hits. But it was after the Twins took a 5-0 lead in the second inning that Santana was able to change his approach. He noticed that the Mets were swinging earlier in the count, aggressively trying to force their way back into the game. So as any two-time Cy Young Award winner would do, Santana adjusted by giving them pitches in the right locations to hit to his defense. What it led to was quick innings, a lower pitch count, and fewer strikeouts -- Santana sure didn't seem to mind. "I wasn't even able to get to two strikes on many of those guys because they were swinging early," Santana said. "At the same time, we were getting outs. I will trade my strikeouts for all those kind of outs right there, because it's quicker and much easier. You don't have to throw that many pitches." Santana's pitch count was low throughout the entire outing, and he finished with just 92 pitches. And despite the lack of strikeouts, he was still able to ease through the lineup -- retiring 12 straight batters at one point. "Teams have been fouling a lot of his pitches off recently, but today they hit the ball early in counts and that's why he ended up going through them pretty good," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. Santana had been questioned quite a bit recently on whether he felt pressure to be perfect due to the lack of runs he was receiving. Time and again, he denied that pressure. But the team's ace admitted Tuesday that getting that early lead relaxed him. Pitching coach Rick Anderson saw the difference, too.
"Probably the key of it was scoring the five runs early, because he attacked a little better and didn't pitch tentative," Anderson said. "He didn't pitch like one pitch was going to cost him the game. He attacked them."The ace had a little something to do with that run support himself. Santana drew his first career walk in the Twins' five-run second inning. He then recorded his first career extra-base hit in the fifth, when he doubled to right field off Aaron Sele. Santana later scored in the inning on a Michael Cudddyer RBI single. And he certainly wasn't too displeased by being able to deliver at the plate, even if he had to avoid legging out a triple to maintain his stamina for the mound. "I tried to take it very, very easy running the bases and still, I got a double," Santana said. He certainly was able to use that extra gas in the tank later on to finish out the complete game. The results of this start were clearly the best for Santana all season. But whether that means he will change his approach is still up for debate. Gardenhire said he still views Santana as a strikeout pitcher with the ability to adapt as needed. "We all know he's a strikeout pitcher and if you go deep in the count with him, you're going to get the nasty changeup, and that's when he puts guys away," Gardenhire said. "These guys obviously didn't want to get to that. They hit the ball hard, had a lot of line drives out there, but also we played pretty good defense behind him and made the plays." The Mets did hit some balls hard, but as Santana admitted his defense was there when he needed it. It was the type of all around effort -- pitching, hitting, and defense -- that the Twins have struggled to produce this season. And having it with Santana on the mound did make it a bit sweeter. "A lot of good things happened for us tonight," Gardenhire said. "And for Johan, who richly deserved some runs, we finally gave him some." Earning yet another victory and picking up run support were big for Santana but there was, of course, that other prize. The plan is for Blyleven's shearing to take place in the visiting clubhouse at 2:30 p.m. CT on Wednesday. And it seems no one is more excited than Santana. "Hopefully by game time, he'll be bald," Santana said with a smile.
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.