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Santana's 19th win keeps Twins on tail of Tigers

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Johan Santana appears to have a firm grasp on
his second AL Cy Young Award. The Minnesota Twins hope to have the
same grip on a division title by season's end.

Johan Santana (19-6) regained sole possession of the major-league lead in wins Tuesday. He also leads the majors in ERA (2.77) and strikeouts (245). Of the seven different pitchers who led the majors in all three categories in the same season, only one did so since Sandy Koufax retired after the 1966 season:

Year

Pitcher

W

ERA

Ks

1985

Dwight Gooden

24

1.53

268

1966

Sandy Koufax

27

1.73

317

1965

Koufax

26

2.04

382

1963

Koufax

25

1.88

3.06

1945

Hal Newhouser

25

1.81

212

1931

Lefty Grove

31

2.06

175

1930

Grove

28

2.54

209

1924

Dazzy Vance

28

2.16

262

1918

Walter Johnson

23

1.27

163

1915

Grover Alexander

31

1.22

241

1913

Johnson

36

1.14

243

Source: Elias Sports Bureau, Inc.

Santana pitched eight strong innings in his final start before
the playoffs, earning his 19th win and leading Minnesota to a 3-2
victory over the Kansas City Royals on Tuesday night.

The Twins clinched a spot in the postseason by beating Kansas
City on Monday night, and now they've set their sights on catching
the first-place Tigers for the AL Central title. Detroit beat
Toronto 4-3 Tuesday night, maintaining its one-game lead over
Minnesota.

"We've had a great season so far but we're not done yet,"
Santana said. "It feels good to finish strong and give my team a
chance to win. Now I have to cheer these guys on so we can win the
division."

Pinch-hitter Luis Rodriguez drove in the go-ahead run with a
sacrifice fly in the eighth. Santana (19-6) scattered seven hits,
struck out five and retired 15 of his final 17 batters.

The Cy Young favorite improved to 16-0 over his last 23 starts
at the Metrodome. The Twins haven't lost one of his home starts
since Aug. 6, 2005.

Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said Santana will make his next
start in Game 1 of the division series next week. He would then be
ready for a potential Game 5.

Santana has pitched 233 2/3 innings this season. Since the
All-Star break, he also has battled a hangnail and a nagging hip
injury.

"The rest will give him a week to prepare for Game 1,"
Gardenhire said. "It's a long season and he's got a lot of innings
under his belt. It'll be good for him to catch his breath."

Joe Nathan worked the ninth for his 36th save. Kansas City
loaded the bases with one out, but Nathan struck out Angel Sanchez
and David DeJesus to preserve the victory.

"That was just another unemotional, easy win for us,"
Gardenhire joked. "You'd think after last night things couldn't
get any more exciting. I guess they can."

The Royals dropped their eighth straight game. One more loss
will ensure them of a third consecutive 100-loss season.

"When you don't have all your guys you go to plan B," interim
manager Billy Doran said. "Now we're on Plan C. But you go with
what you got and these kids are actually playing pretty well for
me."

Justin Morneau started the eighth inning with an infield single.
After diving out of the way of Morneau's shattered bat, Royals
pitcher Joel Peralta was unable to cover first on a ball hit to
first baseman Jeff Keppinger.

"We hadn't covered any drills for that one," Doran said.
"That's a tough deal because it's human nature to take cover."

Torii Hunter followed with a single to left, and both runners
advanced on a passed ball charged to catcher Paul Phillips.

Phillips was charged with another passed ball on the next pitch,
but managed to throw out Morneau trying to score from third. Then,
Rodriguez's sacrifice fly to deep center scored Hunter.

Peralta (1-3) gave up one run in two innings in relief of
starter Odalis Perez.

It's the fourth time in five seasons that the Twins have reached
the playoffs. This year's team packs more offensive punch than the
last three playoff squads, even though that wasn't apparent against
Perez.

He held the Twins to two runs and seven hits over six innings.

Trailing 2-1, the Twins loaded the bases with none out in the
sixth, but only managed to tie the game on Hunter's sacrifice fly.

The Royals scored first on Esteban German's two-run single in
the third. Four of the first 11 Kansas City hitters reached base
against Santana before he settled into a groove.

"He started throwing his slider and changeup over the plate and
that made his fastball that much more effective," Minnesota
catcher Mike Redmond said.

Lew Ford hit his fourth home run for the Twins (94-63) in the
third. Redmond finished with three hits.

Santana said he feels no worse than usual for this time of the
year, but welcomes the extra rest.

"I know exactly how my body is," he said. "Right now I'm
fine, just some bumps and bruises. But basically I'm fine and ready
to go in the postseason."

Game notes
Santana had been scheduled to start Sunday's regular-season
finale against the White Sox. ... Boof Bonser will start Game 2 of
the playoffs for the Twins. Brad Radke, who will return to the
rotation on Thursday, could start Game 3. If Radke's injured
pitching shoulder does not allow him to go after Thursday, Carlos Silva or Matt Garza will get the nod. ... Sanchez got his first
major league hit with a single in the third inning.