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Twins 4, Cleveland 1

  • Article by: Joe Christensen
  • Star Tribune
  • August 16, 2006 - 12:06 AM

Johan Santana has a blister on his left middle finger that quietly pestered him through a spate of un-Johan-like performances in late July and early August.

He was never awful, of course, but he didn't have his usual second-half brilliance.

Then came Tuesday night, when the Twins were desperate for the Old Johan and there he was, overcoming that blister problem to carry them to a 4-1 victory over the Cleveland Indians before an announced 34,854 fans at the Metrodome.

"As I told him, that's one of the better games I've seen him pitch," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said, as his team moved two games behind Chicago in the American League wild card race.

Cleveland had won six consecutive games, averaging 7.7 runs, but Santana (14-5) held them to three hits over eight shutout innings.

There was no margin for error because Jake Westbrook (9-8) held the Twins to one run until the eighth, when Minnesota broke the game open with three runs.

Joe Mauer had a two-out, run-scoring single in the third inning, and the first two runs in the eighth scored on a two-out single by Michael Cuddyer.

"Trust me, we were happy to get to [Westbrook] because he was nasty," said Twins center fielder Torii Hunter, who added a run-scoring single in the eighth.

With a 4-0 lead, and Santana at 99 pitches, Gardenhire turned to closer Joe Nathan for the ninth.

The Twins haven't had a complete game shutout all season, but this wasn't a case of Gardenhire being overly cautious.

Santana had asked the manager to get the bullpen ready during the eighth inning.

The problem wasn't his golden left arm. It was a blood-dried spot on his fingertip.

"I've been dealing with a blister and a split nail for at least three weeks now," Santana said.

That was a revelation, actually, since Santana had said nothing publicly.

It helped explain Santana's 4.60 ERA over his five previous starts. Again, not terrible. But Santana set the bar awfully high during the past three years, going 30-3 with a 1.90 ERA after the All-Star break.

This time, Santana benefitted from an extra day's rest between starts. Monday's open date gave the blister more time to heal, and it wasn't until the late innings that it started wreaking havoc with his slider again.

Of course, it's tough to know, since Santana notched two strikeouts in his last inning, giving him nine for the night and a major league-best 187 for the season.

Santana has pitched through occasional back spasms and leg cramps, but he said those problems have subsided. The blister, however, could linger until season's end.

"It's going to stay there for a while," he said, staring at the finger. "But the good thing is my nail is growing back, so it's not like before, when I was missing a quarter of my nail. So now it's OK."

And if it stays OK, by his standards, he better make room in his trophy case for a second Cy Young Award.

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