DETROIT -- The realization didn't escape Johan Santana that his final start of the 2007 season against the Tigers possibly could be his last as a Twins pitcher. With lots of financial decisions on the horizon for the Twins, exactly what the club plans to do with Santana is unclear. But even if Wednesday night wasn't the finale of his Minnesota career, the ace did see at least one thing come to an end in the Twins' 9-4 loss to the Tigers at Comerica Park. A one-hour, 18-minute rain delay shortened Santana's outing to just three innings, unceremoniously ending a 123-game streak in which he pitched at least five frames in every start.
"Sooner or later, it was going to end," Santana said. "It's too bad it ended up this way. But you can't control Mother Nature. We'll start another one next year, hopefully." The streak dated back to May 29, 2004. It was the third-longest such streak over the last 50 years, bested only by Curt Schilling (147) and David Cone (145). Considering just how much it takes for a starter to pitch into the sixth inning every time out, it seemed the streak spoke more about Santana than any of his other impressive numbers. "To me, it's like every time I pitch it's about giving the team a chance to win, and that will prove it right there," Santana said. "Whatever happened in the game, I was still battling out there, trying to help and hoping that this team could come back in those situations. That's all I was doing." The shortened outing might have cost Santana more than just the streak. This was his last start of the season, and his short night likely jeopardized his chance at his fourth straight strikeout crown. Santana's four strikeouts on Wednesday night brought his season total to 235, which currently leads the Major Leagues. Tampa Bay's Scott Kazmir is second behind Santana with 229, but he has one more start, against the Yankees on Thursday. Personal accomplishments aren't something Santana puts a lot of stock in, so it's no surprise he's not concerned about the title. He's more content with what being in position to possibly win yet another crown says about his track record on the mound. "I've been consistent throughout my career and again all this year in doing those kind of things," Santana said of his strikeout numbers. "So I'm very happy with that." It's been a year of ups and downs for Santana, and the numbers have reflected a season that hasn't been one of Santana's best. His 15 wins are the fewest he's recorded in a season as a starter, and his 3.33 ERA is his highest since he became a full-time starter in '04. He's also given up a career-high 33 home runs. However, he had some highlights as well, like tallying a career-high 17 strikeouts in a game against the Rangers. Despite the fact that his last start was cut short and didn't end on the best note, Santana will not pitch again this season. In fact, there was no real question as the rain delay lingered that Santana would not return to the mound. After the game was halted at 7:13 p.m. CT, it originally was scheduled to resume at 8:05 p.m. That changed quickly as another storm rolled through, but Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said the decision already had been made to end Santana's day. "You can't take a chance at him cranking back up and hurting himself," Gardenhire said. Santana's outing ended with the Twins holding a 4-3 lead. Minnesota tagged Detroit rookie Jair Jurrjens for four runs in the first inning. Justin Morneau tallied his 110th RBI of the season on a single to left field, and Rondell White added a three-run double to center field. The ace then gave up three runs -- two earned -- in the bottom of the second. He issued three walks in the inning and gave up just one hit -- a two-run double by catcher Mike Rabelo. But that difficult inning couldn't compare to what faced the Twins when the game resumed after the delay. Nick Blackburn came on in place of Santana, and the chance for one last victory for Santana was erased immediately. Blackburn gave up a leadoff homer to Mike Hessman in the fourth, and the 422-foot shot knotted the game at 4.
Trouble continued for Blackburn, as he allowed a total of six runs -- four earned -- in the inning. Blackburn struggled to make pitches, and his defense didn't help him, making a few mistakes to turn the game into a rout. Luckily the contest didn't last much longer, as it was called after five innings.
"An ugly night out on the baseball field -- rain delays and lots of water coming out of the sky," Gardenhire said. "And we kind of played up to it, too."
In all, it was a disappointing end to the series for the Twins and even more so if it indeed was the final start of Santana's career with Minnesota.
The Twins ace is signed through the 2008 season, but he has made it clear if the club hopes to keep him after next year, it would be best to approach him as soon as possible.
With a market value likely to reach over the $100-million mark, Santana might be out of the Twins' price range. And knowing that his trade value likely would be the highest heading into the '08 season, the Twins could shop the ace this offseason if it appears unlikely a deal will be completed.
After all, the team has not been afraid to trade one of its most recognizable players in the past. In 1998, the Twins traded Chuck Knoblauch to the Yankees for four prospects and $3 million.
Santana is aware of that trade, and it's why he said, yes, it crossed his mind Wednesday that this might be his final outing for the club.
"Was this my last start as a Twin? Who knows?" Santana said. "We'll see. All I know right now is that I'm a Twin. And I know that in '08, I'm supposed to be a Twin.
"But I'm a professional. I know what to do when I go out there. Whatever uniform I have to wear next year or the following year, I'll be ready. That's all I can say."
|"Was this my last start as a Twin? Who knows? We'll see. All I know right now is that I'm a Twin. And I know that in '08, I'm supposed to be a Twin."|
|-- Johan Santana|
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.