Santana has rough start in loss to Jays
Twins ace gives up four homers for first time in career
TORONTO -- Baseballs were flying out left, right and center in Toronto on Monday night. Unfortunately for the Twins, the majority of them came off Johan Santana.
Minnesota's No. 1 starter surrendered four home runs and suffered through his worst start of the season as the Twins lost to the Blue Jays, 6-4 at Rogers Centre.
"Those guys were aggressive," Santana said. "They were swinging right away, and it seems like the ball was flying today for both teams."
Santana's long night started on just his second pitch of the game, when he surrendered a leadoff home run to Jays left fielder Reed Johnson. Four batters later, Toronto's Frank Thomas took a 1-1 pitch from Santana over the wall in straight-away center for a two-run homer that gave the Jays an early three-run lead.
Two innings after Jays right fielder Alex Rios hit a solo homer in the third frame, Thomas continued his dominance over the Twins by hitting his second two-run homer of the night off Santana. It marked the 52nd time Thomas has gone deep against Minnesota, which ties him with Rocky Colavito for the most homers all-time against the Twins franchise.
Santana's trouble stemmed from the fact that he wasn't able to spot his pitches as effectively as he usual does, which led to both of Thomas' homers.
"I tried to throw a couple fastballs away, but they stayed up," Santana said. "He's the Big Hurt. If you make a mistake you're going to pay for it."
Santana usually makes so few mistakes throughout the course of the game that Thomas said he had to be completely zeroed in to take advantage of any pitch he might be able to extend his arms on.
"It's easy to harness your focus when one of the best starters in the game is on the mound," Thomas said. "One thing about that guy is he's going to challenge you. You watch him on tape, he challenges all the great hitters in the league day in and day out. That's why he's great."
In total, Santana gave up a season-high six runs, and a career worst, four home runs. Prior to Monday night, Santana hadn't even given up three homers in a game since May 7, 2004, against Oakland.
The Twins tried to use some home runs of their own to get back in the game. Minnesota's Torii Hunter hit his 21st home run of the season, and Canadian-born Justin Morneau celebrated his homecoming by going deep in his first two at-bats. It was the fifth time this season Morneau has had a multihomer game, and the ninth time he's done it in his career.
The Twins still came up short, though, putting a damper on Morneau's best game on Canadian soil.
"It doesn't really matter when you lose the game," said Morneau, who entered the game hitting .043 with no homers and just one RBI in his career at Rogers Centre. "You can probably count on one hand the amount of times [Santana's] given up more than three runs this year. It's too bad we weren't able to pick him up, because he always gives us a chance to win."
The Twins' biggest chance to get back in the game came in the top of fifth inning with runners on first and third with nobody out for Luis Castillo. Minnesota's second baseman hit a soft chopper to first and Twins right fielder Jason Tyner took off from third on contact. When it became apparent he would easily be thrown out, Tyner stopped running and tried to get in a rundown long enough to allow Nick Punto to advance to third base. Toronto third baseman Troy Glaus chased Tyner down and after applying the tag, quickly spun around and threw to third in time to get Punto.
"They ended up getting the double play and all of a sudden we're out of the inning right after that," Morneau said, "instead of having 2-3-4 coming up with a couple of guys on base. It's the play that probably changed the game."
On plays like that, runners are usually told to run on contact, but manager Ron Gardenhire thought it was a situation that deserved a little more discretion on Tyner's part.
"He just kind of took off right away," Gardenhire said. "It's taught that way, to stay out of the double play, but I don't think they were going to get a double play with Luis Castillo and that makes a big difference."
The only four runs Minnesota could muster came off its three home runs. That's normally more than enough for Santana, but not on Monday.
"Normally with Santana on the mound," Gardenhire said, "and you get two home runs from Morneau, you have a pretty good opportunity to win a baseball game. It was just one of those nights where San didn't have his best stuff -- and got some pitches up -- and they went out of the ballpark. We couldn't get in it after that."
With the loss, the Twins drop to 2-5 over their last seven games. More importantly, though, they drop to nine games back of the Tigers for first place in the American League Central.
Gregor Chisholm is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.