So Sunday night angst was transformed into Monday night glory, with more twists and turns sure to be coming over the final 28 games before the division race is decided.
"It will go to October. I hope it doesn't but I definitely think it will," said White Sox second baseman Gordon Beckham, whose two-run homer gave his team a lead in the second and then added an important insurance run with an RBI single in the eighth. "It's going to go down to the last couple of games. We just need to keep doing what we are doing, as hard as it is just focus on what we are doing and not what the other team is doing."
"I've said it all along. It's one of those things where you want to put yourself in a position in September to play meaningful games and we are doing that," said White Sox designated hitter Adam Dunn, who finished 1-for-3 in his return from a two-game absence because of a strained right oblique. "We are having a ball doing that."
Monday's affair in Chicago wasn't exactly a walkover for the White Sox (73-61), although Santiago (3-1) made it possible for less than a handful of runs to hold up. The rookie began this 2012 season as the surprise White Sox closer, followed by a move to long relief and then a three-start stint at Triple-A Charlotte to stretch out for a possible short-term move to the rotation.
Santiago allowed one run on three hits over five-plus innings, striking out six and walking three in 91 pitches, with the only run he gave up being Jamey Carroll's solo homer in the fifth. Carroll had gone 1,348 at-bats since his last homer, which also came at U.S. Cellular on Aug. 9, 2009, standing as the longest active streak in the Majors.
With Dylan Axelrod returning from Double-A Birmingham on Tuesday, Santiago's streak of starts might end at one. But he seemed extremely satisfied by Monday's important effort.
"I seriously had all five pitches tonight, which is unusual," Santiago said. "At the beginning of the year, I had one maybe two pitches. Being longer and getting out there more, I've been able to work more on my stuff and have all my stuff. I felt comfortable. I didn't feel anything different. I just tried to go inning by inning."
"Great stuff," said Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire of Santiago. "Quick arm, takes his little windup, his little turn, and then the ball really comes on you. A great little screwball, pitches in and out and he did a nice job. He did a really nice job."
Beckham homered on an 0-2 pitch from Samuel Deduno (5-3) with two outs and A.J. Pierzynski on first in the second to provide the White Sox their only runs until Paul Konerko's two-out single scored Kevin Youkilis in the seventh. The White Sox entered this series in a 2-for-27 slide with runners in scoring position and slightly helped their cause via a 2-for-8 showing against the Twins (55-80).
Even with a few wasted opportunities in the first, second and fifth innings, Ventura was pleased to see his team pick up the late insurance tallies.
"Again, you just have to keep battling," Ventura said. "You don't get the early ones and you come back and Paulie had a couple of situations where he gets one late and Gordon got one late.
"Those are what you need right at the end because the Twins aren't going to be giving up any time soon. You know they are going to keep coming. Getting those runs late is big. It's good for the bullpen."
Ventura's bullpen usage Monday featured Nate Jones and Donnie Veal to escape a sixth-inning jam, with Veal striking out Justin Morneau to end the frame after Jones retired Josh Willingham one batter earlier on a popup to Youkilis to keep Darin Mastroianni at third base. Willingham leads the Twins in RBIs with 96, but is 6-for-47 with 20 strikeouts against the White Sox this season. He also left Ben Revere at third in the first inning when he struck out against Santiago.
Jesse Crain, Matt Thornton and Brett Myers set up closer Addison Reed (25th save), who faced just three batters in the ninth despite yielding Chris Parmelee's leadoff single. The White Sox extended their home winning streak to eight games, improved to 22-5 in their last 27 at home and 18-5 in their last 23 against the Twins.
Returning home ended their four-game losing streak. With four home games looming against the Tigers next week, the White Sox want to continue building momentum at U.S. Cellular in what shapes up as a fight to the finish.
"The only time we can worry about them is when we play them," said Konerko of the Tigers.
"Things didn't work out like we planned [in Detroit], but we are still in it," Dunn said. "Last I looked, we are still in first and can make the postseason."