One very special 'K' day

  • Article by: JOE CHRISTENSEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 21, 2007 - 1:36 AM

Johan Santana had a career-high 17 strikeouts over eight innings of two-hit ball, and the Twins won their series with Texas despite scoring three runs over three games.

Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said he felt like any other fan Sunday, watching with awe and wonder, as Johan Santana delivered one of the most electrifying pitching performances he had ever seen.

After the eighth inning of this 1-0 victory over Texas, however, Gardenhire was in a much different spot than any of the announced 36,354 paying customers at the Metrodome.

Santana had 17 strikeouts, a new Twins record. But he had a chance at tying the major league record of 20.

"You want to sit in my seat and try to make that decision," Gardenhire said, "with all the people hooting and hollering for him to go back out there?"

With 112 pitches under his belt, Santana (13-9) made the decision for Gardenhire, doffing his cap toward a crowd that had been rising to its feet all afternoon, urging him toward his strikeouts.

The crowd booed Joe Nathan when he entered for the ninth inning, but he added two more Ks, helping set a team record for strikeouts in a game with 19.

"I felt good, but at the same time, we knew in that situation Nathan would be the right guy to go back out there and shut everything out," Santana said. "He's one of the best closers in the game, and I trust him. I trust all my teammates, especially the bullpen."

Trusting the offense isn't as easy. Michael Cuddyer hit a second-inning homer off Kevin Millwood (8-10), but the Twins went 0-for-4 with runners in scoring position, leaving them 0-for-19 in those situations in the series.

After taking two of three from Texas despite scoring only three runs, the Twins had every reason to feel sheepish. But they were too busy marveling at Santana.

Texas managed only two hits, both by Sammy Sosa -- a single in the fifth inning and a double in the seventh.

All-Star shortstop Michael Young, who entered the game a .350 career hitter against Santana, went 0-for-4 with four strikeouts, including one against Nathan.

"He's the best pitcher in the game for a reason," Young said of Santana. "In the past, I've had good at-bats against him, but once he gets a full head of steam, it's tough to break his rhythm."

Twins pitching coach Rick Anderson said Santana threw only four sliders, meaning the other 108 pitches were all fastballs and changeups.

Santana threw 83 strikes and 29 balls and got the Rangers to swing and miss an astounding 32 times. He said he followed a similar game plan on May 22, when he struck out 13 in a 7-1 victory at Texas. That's also the night the Twins had their previous high as a team with 18 strikeouts.

This time, with his fastball ranging from 90 to 94 miles per hour, he spotted that pitch almost perfectly and kept pulling the string on 80-83 mph changeups.

Santana had five strikeouts after two innings. Catcher Mike Redmond, who has never caught a no-hitter, said: "I walked off the field after the second and said: 'This could be it. This guy's got some amazing stuff today.' "

Nathan always watches the first few innings on TV to get a sense of the umpire's strike zone, and he noted how Rob Drake was calling Santana's inside pitches for strikes until Sosa delivered his fifth-inning single.

"Johan was still changing his speeds really well, but he definitely had a tougher time hitting the inside corner," Nathan said.

Still, Santana had 11 strikeouts after five innings. His only inning without a K was the sixth, but he came back with three in the seventh and three more in the eighth. The crowd noise kept building, as the scoreboard noted the new marks he was setting.

Santana's previous career high for strikeouts was 14, and the previous team record was 15, set four times, the last by Bert Blyleven in 1986.

"That was really good, especially the way everything ended up," Santana said. "We won by one run, and 17 strikeouts is always good. But to see all the fans getting into it, that's pretty special."

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