- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 9, 2004

BALTIMORE — About the only thing that could have stopped Johan Santana last night was rain — and even that held off ruining the American League Cy Young Award candidate’s latest dominant start.

The Minnesota southpaw cruised through seven shutout innings as the Twins rolled to a 9-0 victory before a sparse gathering that braved a gloomy forecast and sporadic rain to watch Baltimore lose for the third time in four games.

Santana, who has an AL-leading 233 strikeouts after fanning nine Orioles, won his ninth straight start as the Twins maintained their 81/2-game lead over Chicago in the AL Central.

“I was trying to work quick because in the third inning I saw some rain coming, and I didn’t want a game like this to be gone,” Santana said. “Tonight I was able to throw fastballs inside and, of course, my changeup. That’s been the key for me.”

The Orioles, who were shut out for the 11th time this season, managed only five hits off Santana (17-6) before an announced crowd of 19,358. About 2,000 fans were in the park when the game started, though more arrived later.

While Santana was a model of efficiency — needing 103 pitches to finish seven — Orioles starter Erik Bedard was the opposite. The lefty worked several deep counts to create some of his woes, but he was also the victim of some poor luck and the Twins’ ability to foul off pitches in bunches.

Bedard (6-10) loaded the bases to begin the second on an infield single, a walk and a hit batter. After Henry Blanco’s sacrifice fly, Bedard induced Shannon Stewart to hit a sharp liner to third. However, the ball popped out of Melvin Mora’s glove for an error, reloading the bases.

It was a crucial mistake, especially since Lew Ford’s following sacrifice fly otherwise would have ended the inning. Torii Hunter fouled off several pitches before lacing a RBI single to left before Justin Morneau’s bloop two-run double made it 5-0. Matthew LeCroy then hammered a first-pitch fastball into the right-center field seats for his eighth homer.

Bedard eventually ended the inning with a strikeout, but Orioles manager Lee Mazzilli brought in Rick Bauer to start the third. Bedard threw 74 pitches in his shortest start of the season.

“It wasn’t like he was hit around or that one pitch would take him out of the inning,” Mazzilli said. “He just couldn’t get that one pitch. The pitches that he was throwing, I just felt that was enough. It didn’t make any sense to put him back out there.”

The seven-run cushion was more than enough for Santana, who set down the first 12 batters before Miguel Tejada singled to lead off the fifth. Santana continued to mix his wicked high-70s changeup with his fastball and slider to keep the Orioles guessing.

“He’s a Cy Young candidate and he showed us why, I guess,” said left fielder David Newhan, a left-handed hitter. “He was on top of his game. … I think he was really frustrating for the righties, especially, with the good changeup. When he’s using that changeup, that’s what makes him a step above.”

At 25, Santana has enjoyed arguably the AL’s best season. A former Rule V pick who is in his first full season in the Twins’ rotation, the Venezuelan lowered his league-best ERA to 2.85. He also pulled within one of Boston’s Curt Schilling for the league lead in victories.

Santana has been nearly unhittable for the last two months. In 11 starts since the All-Star break, he is 10-0 with a 1.38 ERA. Even more striking are the 97 strikeouts and minuscule 58 baserunners he has allowed in 781/3 innings over that span.

About the only welcome development for the Orioles was Bauer’s outing. The right-hander, who was making his first appearance for Baltimore since July7, allowed one hit in four shutout innings. Bauer matched a career-high with five strikeouts.

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