“I think they’ll all tell you the same thing,” Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire said. “It’s all about winning. We don’t care about nothing else right now.”
Santana (9-4) allowed two hits and struck out nine to increase his big league-leading total to 124. The left-hander finished June 5-0 in six starts with a 1.05 ERA.
“It’s good to celebrate as a team, and not just as a person,” Santana said. “When you win as a team, that’s a great feeling.”
Mauer has joined Santana in compiling eye-popping numbers of late.
Serving as Minnesota’s designated hitter Wednesday, the catcher went 2-for-3 with a walk to improve his major league-best batting average to .392. He went 11-for-13 in the three-game sweep and had hits in eight consecutive at-bats before grounding out in the second inning. He is batting .484 (46-for-95) in June.
“What Joe Mauer’s doing is sick,” Hunter said, laughing. “Single, single, single, single, double. Single, single, single, triple. He’s 23 years old. What’s he going to do when he gets man muscles?”
Joe Nathan struck out all three batters in the ninth for his 13th save in 14 chances.
Minnesota has won 17 of 19 but gained only a half-game on first-place Detroit in the AL Central during that stretch. The Twins remained 11 games behind the Tigers, who beat Houston on Wednesday.
“I’ve never been a part of anything like this,” Hunter said. “I’m loving it.”
Dodgers starter Odalis Perez (4-3) was no match for Santana, giving up six runs and 11 hits in 4 1-3 innings. The lefty has pitched out of the bullpen most of the past two months and was filling in for Brett Tomko, put on the 15-day disabled list Tuesday with a strained muscle on his left side.
“After the first inning, I threw the ball good,” said Perez, who hadn’t started since June 7 and hadn’t pitched at all since June 18. “To come back after 10 days and throw strikes is pretty … good.”
Olmedo Saenz had a two-out, three-run double off reliever Juan Rincon in the eighth for Los Angeles, which began the day a half-game behind first-place San Diego in the NL West. The Dodgers lost their third straight and have dropped 15 consecutive interleague road games. Los Angeles went 0-9 last season against the AL on the road.
“Some good pitching did stop some good hitting this series,” said Dodgers manager Grady Little, whose team was outscored 23-7 in the three games. “We know we’re a good-hitting team, and they stopped us.”
Justin Morneau went 3-for-4 and had an RBI double for Minnesota, which has won its past 10 games at the Metrodome, holding its opponents to three runs or fewer each time. The Twins are 13-2 in interleague play this season.
“It’s about as good as it gets right now,” Mauer said.
For the second consecutive game, the Twins jumped ahead of the Dodgers early.
Minnesota scored all the runs it would need with a two-out rally in the first. Mauer, Michael Cuddyer and Morneau singled off Perez to load the bases. Hunter then smacked a 1-2 breaking pitch into the left-field seats for his second grand slam of the season and the Twins’ seventh this year. The team record is eight, set in 1961.
“I made one mistake, and I paid for that mistake,” Perez said.
The early deficit was demoralizing for Los Angeles, which fell behind 6-0 after two innings Tuesday night and had little hope of catching up against Minnesota’s other standout lefty, Francisco Liriano, in a 9-2 loss.
“That team’s hot right now,” Dodgers catcher Russell Martin said. “They pitched really well and played good defense and did everything right.”
The Twins added two more runs in the fifth on three straight doubles by Mauer, Cuddyer and Morneau against Perez.
The Dodgers sat 1B Nomar Garciaparra, the NL batting leader at .362. Los Angeles doesn’t play Thursday and wanted to give Garciaparra two consecutive days of rest. … The Twins haven’t lost in Santana’s past 15 starts at home dating to Aug. 1 last season. … Minnesota outfielder Shannon Stewart (foot) is on track to be activated from the disabled list before Friday’s game. Rondell White (shoulder) will probably go on the DL at that time.