Even in a lost season, which this one very much appears to be, sometimes events take place that lift our spirits and remind us why we still watch the games. Johan Santana's performance in yesterday's game at the Metrodome was one of those events.
Santana was dominant in every sense of the word, setting a franchise record with 17 strikeouts over eight innings. He also allowed no runs and just two hits, propelling the Twins to a 1-0 victory over the Rangers. Santana had a chance to tie the major-league record for strikeouts in a game; if he had gone back out to pitch the ninth and struck out the side he would have finished with 20. Yet, with Santana's pitch count at 115 and the Twins leading by just one run, Ron Gardenhire made the decision to go with Joe Nathan for the ninth. It wasn't a popular decision in the Metrodome stands, and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't interested in seeing what Santana could do with one more inning, but I can't argue with Gardy's choice. Since the beginning of July, Nathan had a 0.96 ERA and a 0.59 WHIP over 18 2/3 innings, so he was a good bet to deliver. And, after an error and a stolen base put a runner on second with one out, the Twins' closer slammed the door with back-to-back strikeouts to end the game.
It's a good thing for the Twins that Santana was so amazing, because it will divert the criticism of their offense, which capped off an atrocious series with a brutally bad effort against a pitcher they should have hit (and have hit in the past). Kevin Millwood combined with reliever C.J. Wilson to hold the Twins scoreless outside of a solo homer from Michael Cuddyer in the second. The Twins drew six walks in the game, but were unable to push a single one across the plate. They were extremely fortunate to come away with two victories in a series in which they scored a total of three runs and went 0-for-19 with runners in scoring position. These hitters have been completely rotten and they are showing no signs of improvement, which is pretty depressing.
The Indians and Tigers both lost yesterday, continuing both teams' stretches of unimpressive play since the All-Star break. Unfortunately, even with the losses, the Twins still sit 6 games out in the AL Central. The offense's continued ineptitude has prevented the Twins from being able to make up any significant ground in the standings. Because of that, yesterday's magnificient performance by Santana ends up being a brilliant moment in the great career of one of the best pitchers of our era, and a frustrating reminder of how good this team could be if they could score runs.