MINNEAPOLIS -- There are dominant performances and then there are those for the record books. Johan Santana clearly left his own indelible mark in the Twins record books on Sunday afternoon. Santana struck out a career-high 17 batters and established a new club record as he held the Rangers scoreless for eight innings in a 1-0 victory at the Metrodome.
"What a performance," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "That was special. It's just like he said to me, 'Sometimes it happens.' Well, it happened." Santana's 17 strikeouts broke the previous club record, which had been 15 strikeouts. It had been accomplished five times previously, the last by Bert Blyleven against the Oakland A's on Aug. 1, 1986. It was clear early in Santana's outing that there was something magical going on. After getting the first batter to ground out, Santana struck out five batters in a row. He would strike out 9 of the first 12 batters he faced in the game. "Honestly, right away I thought, 'Wow, he's got good stuff today,'" Gardenhire said. "It was effortless. His fastball was darting and he had a great changeup from the first hitter on. You can see it. That was like no-hitter stuff." It wasn't the day for a no-hitter, as Sammy Sosa led off the fifth inning with a single to left field. It was one of only two hits that Santana would give up on the day. Sosa also recorded the only other hit when he tallied a double to left in the seventh. There was only one inning that Santana didn't record a strikeout, and that came in the sixth. He still retired the side and would only get better over his final two innings, striking out six of seven batters he faced. "I was left in awe today," Torii Hunter said. "He seldom missed. Most of those guys were down, 0-2, before you know it. Johan was pretty impressive today. I was glad to be a part of that. I'd never seen that before, not even in Little League." This wasn't the first time Santana (13-9) demonstrated a knack for making the Rangers whiff. In his previous outing against the Rangers, Santana struck out 13 batters. Still, there was no sign that this type of day was in Santana's future. His 5.05 career ERA against the Rangers coming into the outing was his highest against any American League opponent, and Santana had recorded double-digit strikeouts just once in his last 15 outings. But the difference on this day was Santana's command of his pitches, and it's what caused Rangers shortstop Michael Young to strike out four times in the game while Marlon Byrd, Gerald Laird and Brad Wilkerson each tallied three strikeouts of their own. "[Santana] was great," Young said. "That's as good as I've seen his changeup, and that's saying something. Johan always has a chance to be good. He's the best pitcher in the game for a reason. Once he gets going full steam, it's tough to break it up." It was a Twins victory that teetered on edge for much of the afternoon. Despite Santana's dominance, the Rangers were just one good swing away from knotting up the game and erasing Santana's chance at a win. The Twins' offense could muster just one run off Rangers starter Kevin Millwood. That run came in the second inning when Michael Cuddyer led off with his 12th home run of the year, a 425-foot shot over the left-center-field wall. And the one good swing for Texas almost came in the seventh when Sosa belted a 1-2 pitch high down the left-field line that looked like it might stay fair. But at the last minute, the ball curved and landed just a few feet outside of the foul pole. "For two seconds, I thought it was gone," Santana said. Once he got past that double by Sosa, Santana cruised to the finish of his outing. He struck out Byrd to end the seventh, which tied his previous personal record of 14 strikeouts. And with the crowd growing louder with each K recorded, Santana's teammates were growing more aware of what was going on around them. "They've got that thing up there on the scoreboard, and whenever he's pitching I'm constantly checking it," Cuddyer said. "When you're sitting on the bench and it's like the seventh or eighth inning and it's like 14, 15, 16, you definitely see it." Santana came out for the eighth inning having thrown 99 pitches and on a mission to finish what he started. Backup catcher Mike Redmond was concerned that the energy inside the Metrodome would affect his pitcher, but that was far from the case. "He wanted me to calm down and I was like, 'I'm fine,'" Santana said. "After that, I mean, you hear the fans, but it was fun. It's always great to do something like that. "You don't have that many chances to do something very special like that. I was living by the moment but at the same time, I was enjoying everything I was doing out there." After Santana struck out the side in the eighth, he exited to a standing ovation. Rather than leave the fans wondering whether he would come out in the eighth, Santana instead delivered his own curtain call -- tipping his cap to the raucous crowd of 36,353. So what might have been a difficult decision for Gardenhire, whether to send Santana back out or go to closer Joe Nathan, suddenly became easy. "I felt good, but at the same time we knew that in that game situation, Nathan would be the right guy to go back out there and shut everything out," Santana said. "He's one of the best closers in the game and I trust him." The crowd didn't quite agree with Santana's decision, booing as Nathan jogged to the mound. Nathan would allow one baserunner to reach in the ninth on his fielding error at first base. He then struck out the next two batters to set a new single-game club record with 19 total strikeouts. The win pulled the Twins to within six games of the American League Central-leading Indians. "Wow, we needed that," Redmond said. "We needed zeros and like he always does, he went out there and stepped up in a huge situation to give us a chance to win. That's what's great about catching, you just never know when you're going to have an opportunity where you have a guy pitch like that. To be back there during that one was fun."
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.