Santana looks to stay unbeaten since the All-Star break and cap the Twins’ first three-game series sweep at Fenway Park in more than 12 years when they meet the Boston Red Sox on Thursday.
Minnesota (90-61) has won four straight and 10 of 12, and are just a half-game behind division-leading Detroit. The Twins beat the Red Sox 8-2 on Wednesday, but the Tigers topped the Chicago White Sox 6-2 to keep the division lead.
“We’re inching closer, but there’s still a long way to go,” said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire, whose team also leads the AL wild card race by 5 1/2 games over the second-place White Sox. “It’s all about getting back into the playoffs.”
Minnesota hasn’t swept a series in Boston since June 13-15, 1994.
Santana (18-5, 2.77 ERA) allowed four runs in eight innings of the Twins’ 5-4, 10-inning loss to Cleveland on Friday. The outing snapped a three-start winning streak and was the Twins’ first loss in 13 starts Santana has made since the All-Star break.
However, Santana is 9-0 with a 2.51 ERA in 13 outings since losing on July 9.
Because of Monday’s off-day, manager Ron Gardenhire was able to give Santana an extra day of rest. The manager is hoping that he can pitch his ace, who leads the majors in wins, in the last game of the season against the White Sox.
“You put together your rotation and you say you have this guy and this guy, and then we’ve got Santana,” Gardenhire said. “There are no guarantees, but you have a pretty good feeling about your chances on days he’s pitching.”
The 2004 AL Cy Young Award winner, who had a 15 1-3-inning scoreless streak snapped in the first when he allowed Ryan Garko’s homer, is 31-2 with a 1.73 ERA in 43 second-half starts since 2004.
“I really don’t think about that,” he said of his second-half success. “Every game from now on counts. We can’t afford to lose any games.”
Santana is 3-3 with a 3.55 ERA in 10 career appearances, including seven starts, against the Red Sox. However, he is 3-0 with a 2.20 ERA in five starts against them since the start of 2003 with the Twins winning each of those games.
Santana faced Curt Schilling in his only outing against Boston this season and gave up one run in eight innings of Minnesota’s 5-2 win in 12 innings on June 13.
The Red Sox (81-71) were eliminated from contention in the AL East Wednesday, as their loss gave the New York Yankees their ninth straight division title. The only bright spot was Ortiz’s 50th homer, which tied Jimmie Foxx’s 1938 franchise record.
“Right now we need to finish the season,” said Ortiz, who played for Minnesota from 1997-2002. “We’re having a tough time at this point of the season and it’s crazy how things are going. I just told everybody we’ve got to keep on playing.”
Josh Beckett (15-10, 5.02) will start the finale for Boston, making his first career start against the Twins. He allowed two runs in six innings of Saturday’s 5-2 win over the Yankees, matching his career high for wins set last season with Florida.