Santana The Next Sandy?

Santana won his second Cy Young on Thursday.

In this edition of Twins Inside Pitch, Johan Santana is beginning to be named in the same breath as Sandy Koufax, Manager Ron Gardenhire is starting to be placed in the upper echelon of Major League Managers, and much more.

Whatever else the Twins might have for starting pitching come next spring, this much has been confirmed: They'll start with the best pitcher in baseball.

In fact, left-hander Johan Santana's unanimous selection as the American League Cy Young Award winner was just the latest piece of mounting evidence in the argument he's making for consideration as one of the best left-handers in history over any given four-year period.

The Cy Young Award was the second in three years -- both by unanimous vote -- for Santana, 27. Many considered him the best pitcher in the league in 2005 as well, but poor run support and some letdowns by the bullpen cost him enough victories to allow 20-game winner Bartolo Colon to take the Cy Young that year.

Those are Santana's first three full seasons as a starter in the big leagues.

In fact, since he joined the rotation at midseason in 2003 and made 18 starts that year, he's 66-21 (.759) with the best ERA in baseball (2.77) as a starter.

He also has 857 strikeouts in 803 2/3 innings in that 119-start stretch. That 3 1/2-year period is comparable to the four-year stretch in the 1960s by Sandy Koufax that many consider the most dominating for that length in history.

In a pitcher-dominated era, Koufax went 97-27 (.782) with a 1.86 ERA and 1,228 Ks in 1,192 2/3 innings -- winning three Cy Youngs along the way.

Among left-handers other than Koufax, only Randy Johnson's four-year run of NL Cy Youngs from 1999-2002 (81-27, 2.48, 1,417 Ks) compares. One big difference between Santana and those other two: He's doing it at a younger age than either one of them.

And, he said, "I still believe I can get better. I'm pretty sure that I can do better." This season, Santana led the majors with a 2.77 ERA and 245 strikeouts and tied for the major league lead in victories (19). Only Koufax, with three, has won more Cy Youngs by unanimous vote.

NOTES, QUOTES:

  • For the third time in five years, GM Terry Ryan won a major award recognizing him as Major League Baseball's executive of the year, this time with peers voting him The Sporting News' version of the award for the second time (he also won it in 2002). He won Baseball America's award in 2004.

  • Manager Ron Gardenhire nabbed nine of 28 first-place votes but finished second in the AL Manager of the Year voting for the third time in his five seasons as manager, finishing behind Detroit's Jim Leyland. He also was second to Kansas City's Tony Pena in 2003 and to Texas' Buck Showalter in 2004. He finished third in 2002, his first season.

  • LHP Johan Santana earned a $100,000 bonus for winning his second Cy Young Award in the past three years.

  • C Joe Mauer, the first catcher in American League history to win a batting title, and 1B Justin Morneau, the MVP candidate with a .321 average, 34 home runs and 130 RBIs, won Silver Slugger awards as the top offensive players at their positions in the AL. It gave the Twins two Silver Slugger winners in the same season for the first time. The last time a Twin won the award was 1997 (2B Chuck Knoblauch).

  • Despite missing all but six innings of the final two months of the season because of an elbow injury, LHP Francisco Liriano received a first-place vote in Rookie of the Year voting. Liriano, who also received three second-place votes,finished third, behind LHP Justin Verlander of Detroit and RHP Jonathan Papelbon of Boston.

    BY THE NUMBERS: $37,539 -- Value of a full playoff share for the Twins in 2006, for winning their division and losing in the first round of the playoffs.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "People are starting to recognize him. Gardy's starting to get into that neighborhood of select company with Bobby Cox and Tony La Russa and Joe Torre." -- Twins GM Terry Ryan on manager Ron Gardenhire after he finished second in AL Manager of the Year voting.

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