MINNEAPOLIS (AP)—Johan Santana has been performing well for a while. His teammates are starting to catch up.
“Right now, we expect to win. There was a period there when we didn’t know what was going to happen,” manager Ron Gardenhire said after his team’s 12th victory in 14 games.
Justin Morneau homered and had three RBIs, and Michael Cuddyer and Luis Castillo each drove in two runs to support Santana (8-4), who easily outpitched Cubs rookie Carlos Marmol (1-2) and won his fourth straight decision. Minnesota hasn’t lost at the Metrodome in his last 14 starts, dating to Aug. 1.
“Hopefully, we don’t let up,” Cuddyer said.
Phil Nevin homered early and Chicago scored late on a throwing error by shortstop Jason Bartlett that followed three eighth-inning singles, but Santana struck out Aramis Ramirez with a 93 mph fastball near his neck with runners at the corners to end the threat.
The left-hander struck out six and walked one while giving up five hits.
“He’s very smart. You can have the stuff that Santana has, but if you’re not thinking out there you’re going to get hit around,” said Chicago’s Todd Walker, who singled and scored in the eighth. “He’s got four great pitches, and he’s a thinker. He thinks right along with you. Not many pitchers in the big leagues do that.”
Nevin sent an 0-1 offering from Santana leading off the second high into the seats in left field to give Chicago an early edge, prompting a fan to chuck it back in the customary ode to Wrigley Field’s bleacher culture. Nevin hit long flies to center and right in his next two at-bats, but they were tracked down by Torii Hunter and Cuddyer without any trouble.
Jacque Jones, a Twins draft pick who was a regular in Minnesota’s outfield the past six-plus seasons until signing with the Cubs, was the only other batter in the sagging Chicago lineup who consistently made solid contact. He hit a long fly to left and lined out hard to shortstop in his first two appearances.
Otherwise, Santana showed off his usually confounding stuff, mixing those tricky changeups with the fastball and slider and settling in once his teammates gave him the lead. He wasn’t even at his best, really: Gardenhire called it a “workmanlike” performance.
Despite a recent resurgence from their rotation and a boost from streaking young hitters Morneau, Bartlett, Joe Mauer and Jason Kubel, the Twins are still stuck in third place—11 games behind Detroit in the AL Central. For now, it’s futile to concentrate on catching up.
“We have to worry about ourselves and playing the best we can,” Santana said. “At the end, we’ll see where we’re at.”
There were thousands of Cubs fans among the ticketed crowd of 34,361, but they didn’t have much to cheer after Nevin’s homer. All-Star first baseman Derrek Lee—absent the last two months with a broken wrist—is due back soon, but manager Dusty Baker must then figure out how to use Nevin, who has six homers among his 15 hits for Chicago since coming over in a May 31 trade with Texas.
“This team’s going to be a lot better when Derrek does come back,” Nevin said. “I’m part of this team, and whatever I’m asked to do when Derek does come back, I’ll deal with it.”
Marmol was one of the Cubs’ disappointments.
“Sometimes he’s throwing real well and sometimes he gets out of place,” Baker said. “All those rallies were preceded somewhere by a walk.”
After Cuddyer walked to start the second, Morneau drove a low-and-away pitch to straightaway center, where Juan Pierre’s jump just missed a terrific catch.
In the next inning, Cuddyer drove a double down the left-field line—high enough so it couldn’t be caught by third baseman Ramirez, who made a tremendous, fully extended, diving grab of Lew Ford’s liner in the previous frame.
A promising right-hander brought up from Double-A less than three weeks ago and later summoned to fill in for a beat-up rotation, Marmol settled down after the third but didn’t get through the sixth—leaving two in scoring position with two outs for Will Ohman.
Castillo singled up the middle to score Ford and Bartlett and give the Twins a 7-0 lead. Marmol was charged with six hits, seven runs and four walks while striking out three in his third major league start.
Chicago has a 10-6 lead in the all-time series against the Twins, but this was their first meeting since 2001. … Minnesota is 8-2 in interleague games this year. … Bartlett, batting .419, has hit in all nine games since being recalled from Triple-A Rochester.