Santana delivers gem for earnest Twins

Santana delivers gem for earnest Twins

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Twins returned home to the Metrodome following their best road trip of the year with a clear message on their mind.

Now is not the time to relax.

"There's still a sense of urgency to get close to the guys ahead," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said prior to Friday night's game with the Cubs.

The Twins certainly showed by their performance on Friday night that they aren't about to ease up on the all-out effort to continue their winning ways as they defeated the Cubs, 7-2, before a crowd of 34,361 at the Metrodome.

The urgency has been put into place because, despite winning 12 of their last 14 games, the Twins still trail in the American League Central by 11 games as the White Sox and the Tigers continue to win with the same frequency.

"Hopefully we don't let up," Michael Cuddyer said of the team's current pace. "We're in a position where we have to play like this to get back into contention. But at the same time, we can't worry about it either."

Coming back home, where they have had success all year, for a long homestand after the 5-1 road trip would seem to have raised the Twins' confidence level to an even higher point.

But the real key to change in the club's demeanor has been the fact that, after missing it for the most of the season, the Twins have finally gotten the pitching and the hitting to click at the same time.

"I see a team that is very confident right now, and they are coming to the ballpark expecting to win," Gardenhire said. "There was a period there where we didn't know what was going to happen, and that's not a good feeling. Guys are confident right now, they are behind each other and there is confidence that we are going to win every night when we come to the ballpark. That's a feeling you have to have to get back in the pennant race."

It certainly helps the confidence when the Twins have the luxury of Johan Santana heading to the mound. There is always the expectation of success for the Twins with Santana pitching, even if it's a night where he doesn't have his best stuff.

That occurred against the Cubs, as Santana admitted that he didn't have a great feel with his changeup and slider. But of course, a less than average night for the Twins ace is still quite impressive. Santana (8-4) still managed to pitch eight innings, giving up just one earned run on five hits while striking out six.

"My changeup, I didn't have a good grip on it and my slider was OK," Santana said. "But I was able to battle through it and throw the pitches we need to."

It certainly didn't seem like the same old Santana at the start as he got into a rare hole early in the contest, when he gave up a leadoff homer to Phil Nevin in the second inning that gave the Cubs a 1-0 lead.

But the Twins offense would quickly erase that deficit.

Cubs starter Carlos Marmol walked Cuddyer in the bottom of the second before battling through a tough at-bat with Justin Morneau. Then, on a 3-2 pitch, Morneau delivered a line-drive homer over the center-field wall, his 19th of the season, that allowed the Twins to take the lead, 2-1.

And the club would never look back.

A string of a few hits in the third tallied three more runs for the Twins, and the club would get to Marmol (1-2) just a bit more in the sixth before his exit as two runs scored on a Luis Castillo single to center.

Having the support of more than a few runs, Santana would cruise through most of the outing before giving up one more run, this one unearned, in the eighth. But even with the late score, it was just the kind of pitching performance by Santana that the club hoped would follow the stellar effort delivered by Francisco Liriano the night before.

While the turnaround of the pitching staff has been a big key to the winning ways of the Twins, so has the emergence of Morneau at the plate. Since a treacherous West Coast road trip ended during the first week of June, Morneau has delivered more than his share of key hits and RBIs.

Over the 14-game stretch, during which the Twins have been hot, Morneau is hitting .439 with eight homers and 23 RBIs along with eight multi-hit games. That included his night on Friday, when he went 3-for-4 with three RBIs to raise his season-long total to 61, second in the American League behind Boston's David Ortiz.

"I'm a little more confident and a lot more relaxed," Morneau said of the change. "I'm just up there and feel like I'm going to get a hit every time I'm up there. That's a good feeling."

"I saw a quote where he said he wants to be better and he's tired of not getting it done," Gardenhire said. "Well, he's getting it done now."

And so are the Twins.

Kelly Thesier is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.