Example No. 1,371 of what makes LHP Johan Santana one of the top pitchers in baseball:
Santana didn't have his sharpest, most dominating stuff against the White Sox on Sunday as he continued to battle a blister problem and a split nail on the middle finger of his pitching hand. But he managed to pitch seven innings and limit the Sox to just one run despite the ailments and a strategy by the Chicago lineup that looked effective early.
The plan called for hitters to ignore Santana's slider and changeup and swing at the first fastballs they saw. They had four hits in the first three innings, including two by Tadahito Iguchi on fastballs -- one that drove home the game's first run in the third.
Pitching coach Rick Anderson and Santana noticed the scheme early, and Santana began "pitching backward" -- that is, using his off-speed stuff to set up the fastball instead of the other way around.
The Sox managed only two singles after the third, and Santana retired the final nine batters he faced.
"You have to realize what's happening out there," Santana said.
REPLAY: The Twins scored four runs in the third inning to back the gutty pitching of Johan Santana (15-5) in a 7-3 victory over the White Sox on Sunday at the Metrodome -- with the Twins winning the weekend series two games to one and closing Chicago's lead in the wild-card standings to one game.
Santana improved to 9-0 at home this season and ran his streak of consecutive home starts without a loss to 20 -- dating to a 2-1 loss against Oakland in August 2005. Santana is 13-0 with a 2.03 ERA during the 20-game unbeaten streak, which is the longest by a Twins pitcher since LHP Frank Viola went 24 straight without a home loss in the late 1980s.
NOTES, QUOTES:LHP Francisco Liriano (elbow/shoulder) was given medical clearance Sunday to start playing catch under a trainer's supervision on Tuesday -- the first step toward a possible return from the disabled list before the end of the season. Liriano (12-3) is scheduled to be examined Aug. 29 after the Twins return from a weeklong road trip. Although team officials and medical personnel refuse to speculate on a possible timeline for his return, it's believed he'll remain on the DL for at least several more weeks.The Twins finished 5-5 on their just concluded homestand but nonetheless closed the gap on first-place Detroit in the American League Central to 6 1/2 games -- the closest they've been to first place since May 13. "The focus does change," CF Torii Hunter said. "I smell blood on both ends. I'd rather get to the playoffs, period. But we keep playing pretty good ball like this, and winning the division's sweeter."SS Jason Bartlett gave the Twins a scare when he slid head first into second base and banged into Chicago 2B Tadahito Iguchi's leg with the side of his head and shoulder in the third inning Sunday. Bartlett, who was safe on the play, taking second on his single and a throw into third base, remained on hands and knees until a brief visit from the trainer. He then stayed in the game. "It scared him a little bit," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "It scared me a lot."Sunday's attendance of 42,537 gave the Twins a 10-game total of 367,806 for the just-concluded homestand -- the fourth-largest total for a homestand of any length in franchise history, the most since a 13-gamer in 1992.1B Justin Morneau's two-out double for a run in Sunday's third inning gave him 46 two-out RBIs this season -- most in the majors. Teammate RF Michael Cuddyer has the second-highest total in the majors at 43.RHP Juan Rincon walked Chicago DH Jim Thome with one out in the eighth inning Sunday -- the first walk issued by a Twins pitcher in 88 plate appearances. The Twins pitching staff leads the majors in fewest walks allowed at 263.