OAKLAND, Calif. (AP)—While Johan Santana and Dan Haren mowed down batter after batter with vicious precision, they seemed to be playing a game within the game: Both pitchers were determined to spend as little time on the mound as possible.
Santana finally won both contests by the slimmest margin in baseball.
The defending AL Cy Young winner struck out nine Athletics in a masterful three-hitter, sending Haren to his first loss since May 26 in the Minnesota Twins’ 1-0 victory over Oakland on Friday night.
Santana (11-6) got his second shutout of the season and the third of his career, dominating Oakland’s lineup while extending his AL strikeouts lead. He won a scintillating duel with Haren (10-8), who also pitched a three-hitter in his third complete game of the season.
Such an effort was exactly what the Twins needed after losing 10 of their previous 14.
“I knew coming into this game we were playing the hardest team in baseball,” Santana said. “If you want to beat them, you have to play good. … For me, it’s about getting in a rhythm, and you want to keep that tone. You don’t get too many times when you feel like this.”
Both pitchers already are quick workers, and they rarely faced trouble in between their marches to and from the dugout. The game took just 2 hours—the quickest of the season in Oakland—as both pitchers reached career lows in hits allowed.
At one point in the late innings, Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire looked around at the Coliseum’s largest crowd of the season, gathered in anticipation of a postgame fireworks show, and wondered how long the 46,812 fans would have to wait after the game until the sun went down.
“Wow, what a performance,” Gardenhire said. “He was just unbelievable. He went right at them the whole night. Their kid did great, too. We’ve been on the flip side of that a lot.”
Minnesota got the only run in the fifth inning when Lew Ford drew a leadoff walk, stole second base and scored on Michael Cuddyer’s single. Ford was the only runner for either team to reach third base.
Santana retired 20 straight batters between Nick Swisher’s leadoff single in the third inning and Mark Kotsay’s two-out double in the ninth. Bobby Crosby then drew a walk, but Eric Chavez flied out to center to end it.
Santana went to just two three-ball counts all night, keeping that big crowd silent and seated. He also struck out five straight batters at one point, overwhelming Oakland with his power and control.
Still, he was barely better than Haren, who was 9-0 over his last 14 starts. The A’s also had won each of those 14 games, setting an Oakland record—but thanks to Santana’s dominance, Oakland lost for just the fourth time in 24 games.
The best start of Haren’s career wasn’t good enough for a win, but he felt good about almost everything that happened.
“You can’t give in,” Haren said. “So many times I’ve pitched terrible and got a no-decision. The one time I throw a complete game, I end up losing. … He’s the reigning Cy Young, and that’s what he’s going to do. You expect the best from him, and he brought it tonight.”
Haren yielded two walks and struck out four, retiring most of the Twins on soft grounders. He got a standing ovation when he left the field after retiring Minnesota’s final seven hitters.
“If you like a pitchers’ duel, that certainly was one,” Oakland manager Ken Macha said. “Both guys were great. That’s why Santana is an All-Star.”
The A’s took sole possession of first place in the AL West for the first time all season with a 5-4 victory Thursday over the Angels, who beat Seattle on Friday to regain a share of the lead. Oakland rallied in the late innings to win both games against Los Angeles’ bullpen—but Santana, who threw 25 of his 110 pitches in the ninth, didn’t need any bullpen help.
“It was his game until he gave up a run,” Gardenhire said. “You don’t get too many opportunities in the majors to pitch a 1-0 shutout.”
Santana retired Oakland’s first five batters before Minnesota native Dan Johnson’s two-out double. Swisher led off the third with a single, but the A’s didn’t even come close to putting another runner on base until the ninth.
Santana got the fourth complete game of his career. … Scott Hatteberg sat out of the A’s lineup for one more day to rest the sore muscle in his ribcage, which was hurt last weekend. He’s expected to play Saturday. … Twins LF Shannon Stewart made a beautiful catch in the sixth, diving into the dirt in foul territory to grab Kotsay’s fly ball.