"We just want to show the teams around that we can compete," Santana said. "That's definitely something that I like. I like the challenge and everything. I know what I'm doing, so it's always good to have that responsibility."
It was a responsibility that the Twins indeed felt that Santana could handle. With an off-day on Thursday, the Twins decided to move their starting rotation back one day to keep Santana on his regular five-day schedule. The hope was that Santana could carry the momentum he gained in his near no-hitter in his last start against Detroit into this all-important series.
And sure enough, he delivered.
"You want, if you can, to start your best in Game 1 and get off to a good start," pitching coach Rick Anderson said. "To get a good start like this and get us going throughout. Hopefully now, we'll feed off it."
It wasn't exactly the typical outing for Santana as he relied more on his fastball than his signature changeup. By attacking with a different pitch, Santana kept the White Sox hitters off balance for much of the game. Santana (4-3) struck out 10 in the outing. It was the 26th double-digit strikeout performance for Santana and a feat he has accomplished in three of his last four outings.
"We beat him last time, and I think he was mad," White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski said. "So, he came out and brought it tonight. There's not much you can do against him when he has all his pitches going."
It wasn't like the Twins needed all that much, knowing what was on the line as they faced off against the White Sox. After being swept in the first three games against the defending champions in Chicago, the Twins knew they had to prove in this four-game set that they can indeed compete with the best in their division.
The Twins offense sure seemed in a hurry to prove that as they jumped on Jon Garland early.
Justin Morneau got the scoring started for the Twins, blasting a two-run homer in the second inning. It was the ninth home run of the year for Morneau and his third in the team's last three games.
The offense continued to put up strong numbers in the fourth. Three straight singles with out one in the fourth loaded the bases for the Twins before Juan Castro slapped one just over the middle infield scoring another run. Luis Castillo added a two-run single later in the inning that gave Minnesota a 5-0 lead.
As the bottom of the fourth inning dragged on, Santana had to keep himself moving in the dugout to keep his legs from stiffening up. Sure, it was a bit uncomfortable for the pitcher, but considering the history of the lack of offensive production in his starts, Santana was not in a mood to complain.
"If I have to do that every single inning, I'll take that," Santana said, smiling. "I know what I have to do to keep myself in the game. So I was happy to see that out there."
And it kept coming in this game for the Twins as they took full advantage of Chicago's struggling right-hander. Garland (2-2) gave up seven runs on 11 hits in his 5 1/3 innings of work. It was a strong night for the Twins offense, as each of the nine starters recorded a hit.
Part of the attack included a barrage of home runs in the sixth. Tony Batista led off the inning with his third homer of the year and his first in a month -- his last came on April 11 against Oakland. Garland then walked Shannon Stewart with one out in the inning before being pulled. Agustin Montero replaced Garland and gave up a two-run dinger to Joe Mauer, the catcher's second home run of the season.
"You can go up and down the lineup tonight and see production," Gardenhire said. "That's what has to happen when you're playing these guys."
Beyond just playing the White Sox, there was a little extra motivation to prove that this club still had it in them to compete in not just their division but to show that the team was far from being declared done for the season.
With speculation running throughout the New York and national media about the possibility of Torii Hunter, Shannon Stewart or Lew Ford heading to the Yankees with the loss of left fielder Hideki Matsui to a broken left wrist, there was a bit of extra incentive heading into Friday's game. Players like Hunter and Stewart took the news as not just surprising, being so early in the year, but as a bit of a slap to the team as a whole, with the notion that the club was out of the playoff race already.
"There was a lot of talk in here about it before the game," Hunter said of the rumors. "It kind of pumped the team up. We were fired up ... maybe we had just a little extra juice."
Friday's victory over the White Sox halted a six-game losing streak to Chicago that dated back to Sept. 23 of last season. But thinking that a victory on Friday meant an easy glide through the rest of the series wasn't on the minds of the players or manager Ron Gardenhire.
"Now, you have to go out and see if you can repeat against these guys," Gardenhire said. "It's a great baseball team over there. They're not in first place over there for no reason, so we have to continue to come out and play. But this is a nice start."