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07/29/07 12:19 AM ET
Twins rally to preserve Santana's gem
Ace throws 5 2/3 no-hit frames; Tyner hits first career homer
By Kelly Thesier / MLB.com
CLEVELAND -- The way the Twins have played during their recent five-game losing streak, it seemed that ending that skid would take something pretty spectacular. Not even one of Johan Santana's more dominating performances on the mound was enough for a victory. Not even Jason Tyner's first career homer in 1,220 at-bats could maintain the club's lead. Instead, it took a share of ninth-inning heroics for the Twins to snap their five-game losing steak with a 3-2 win over the Indians at Jacobs Field. After losing a 2-0 lead earlier in the game, the Twins used a leadoff double by Torii Hunter off Indians closer Joe Borowski in the ninth to get the winning run aboard. A groundout to second base by Jason Kubel advanced Hunter to third before Brian Buscher delivered a fielder's choice RBI to secure the win. But no matter how it occurred, the win itself seemed more important than the way it was obtained. "That was a great win for our ballclub," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "Much needed, a really good baseball game." There was no doubt for the Twins that Saturday was a critical game. With the club teetering on the edge of being a buyer or a seller by Tuesday's trade deadline, victories right now are at a premium. It seems everyone on the club knows that without wins, things could quickly turn sour. Coming off a 10-4 loss to the Indians on Friday night that marked their sixth consecutive loss to the Tribe this season, the Twins appeared on a mission to prove that they could find a way to finally get things started with their ace taking to the hill. Early on, it seemed early that things were going their way. The Twins took their lead in the third inning, thanks to Tyner's homer off Indians starter Jake Westbrook. The solo shot over the right-field wall carried 352 feet into the visiting bullpen, ending Tyner's streak of 1,220 at-bats without one, which had been the longest by any active Major League player. "I think I gave us a little bit of an emotional lift," Tyner said of the homer. "This was a huge game for us. We are running out of time and we definitely needed this game and the one [on Sunday]." The entire Twins club knew how badly it needed to turn things around -- and quickly. But no one appeared more on a mission than Santana. One of the fiercest competitors on the club, Santana has not taken well to the team's losing skid. And it didn't seem to help that Santana was coming off two straight losses (a career-first for him after the All-Star break). So with all eyes on him, Santana delivered an outing that rivaled one of this best -- for the first six innings, at least. The club's ace was superb, holding the Indians to just two runs over seven innings while recording 12 strikeouts and issuing just one walk. Most of Santana's success had to do with a powerful fastball that hit the mid-90s. In one stretch, he struck out 10 of the 13 batters he faced. Santana carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning before watching it get broken up with a two-out double by Grady Sizemore. It looked like the hitless outing might end with the first batter Santana faced in the inning. Franklin Gutierrez laid down a bunt toward the mound, and Santana made a great run and dive to his knees. He then delivered a solid throw to first. Instead of being an out, though, first baseman Justin Morneau dropped the catch. Morneau's drop was ruled an error and Santana proceeded to record two straight outs before Sizemore's hit. With Santana's pitch count already reaching into the eighties when the no-hitter ended, Gardenhire admitted that he was a little relieved. "If Johan would have gone into the eighth inning and had 120 pitches and a no-hitter, we would not have been able to take the ball away from him," Gardenhire said. Santana got out of the inning unscathed but found trouble in the seventh when Travis Hafner belted a two-run homer to tie the game. Despite missing with his location on a fastball to Hafner, Santana wasn't laboring over his mistake. But he accepted the fact that any mistake lately has been costly with the offense struggling to get things going. "The kind of baseball we're playing right now cannot afford to make those kind of mistakes, because we won't be able to come back and you have to pay for it," Santana said. "That's what it was for me tonight." The homer did cost Santana the win, but fortunately for the team it was not the end. Instead came the ninth-inning rally, and Joe Nathan picked up his 21st save of the season to end the team's recent skid. But while everyone seemed happy to come out of the game with a win, Santana knows that this type of play won't be enough if the club wants to get back into the division race. Instead, he stressed that more has to be done before the team can declare a real turnaround in progress. "As a team, we're not playing good baseball, that's reality," Santana said. "It affects pitchers, hitters, defense, everything. We're not doing anything the way it's supposed to be. I just hope these guys will come back and realize we have to play better baseball."
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.