NEW YORK -- Good thing Johan Santana was back in top form.
The Minnesota Twins' offense wasted nearly every opportunity it was given over the first five innings, but Santana had his best start in six weeks, stifling the New York Yankees for seven innings and leading the Twins to a 7-3 victory on Wednesday night.
"You feel confident you can get a win against anybody when he's going," Twins center fielder Torii Hunter said.
Alex Rodriguez went 0-for-3 with two walks on his 30th birthday, and Al Leiter struggled with his control in losing his second straight start for the Yankees, who fell two games behind first-place Boston in the AL East.
The Twins had scored just 43 runs in 13 games following the All-Star break, going 19-for-101 with runners in scoring position. They were 2-for-14 in that category through the six innings Wednesday. But they broke open the game with three runs in the seventh against Tanyon Sturtze and stopped a 10-game regular season losing streak at Yankee Stadium.
"We had to set some kind of record for leaving men on base in the first five innings," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "We were frustrated in the dugout."
Santana (10-5) was more effective than he was when he beat the Yankees 2-0 in Game 1 of last year's division series. In that game, he needed a record five double plays to help keep New York in check.
"He hit the ball so hard I had plenty of time to make the throw," Hunter said. "When he hits a ball, Jeter needs to run a little faster."
Santana won his third straight start after dropping three consecutive decisions. He hadn't shown the form that earned him the 2004 AL Cy Young Award since throwing a four-hitter against Arizona on June 8.
"I think everything was working tonight," Santana said. "I knew I was facing a tough lineup from top to bottom. I tried to stay aggressive with all my pitches."
Justin Morneau had an RBI double in the third off Leiter (1-2) to give Minnesota the lead, and Hunter's RBI single and Shannon Stewart's two-run double made it 4-0 in the seventh. Jacque Jones added a two-run homer in the eighth against Scott Proctor, and Morneau connected in the ninth off Alex Graman.
Minnesota's Juan Rincon forced in a run with a bases-loaded walk to Jason Giambi in the eighth. The Yankees added two more on second baseman Bret Boone's throwing error before Joe Nathan entered and got four outs for his 28th save. With two on in the eighth, Bernie Williams nearly tied it with a drive down the right-field line that landed a few feet foul.
"I didn't know how hard he hit it," Gardenhire said. "We were yelling 'Hook!' and 'Don't throw that pitch again!'"
Making his first start in pinstripes since April 14, 1989, Leiter labored through five innings, allowing the leadoff batter to reach base four times and throwing 115 pitches -- just 62 for strikes. But thanks to a well-executed relay by Hideki Matsui in left and Jeter at shortstop, he allowed just one run.
"He's done this thing for a long time. He pitched his tail off," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "Trust me, he knows who he's pitching against, one run could be a pearl."
The performance was as gritty as his last home game for the Yankees. He threw 162 pitches in eight-plus innings against the Twins, getting the win despite giving up five runs and walking nine with 10 strikeouts. Two weeks later he was traded to Toronto. That was in 1989.
On Wednesday, Leiter walked five, hit a batter and struck out two. The Twins loaded the bases in the first two innings but came away without a run.
Leiter said he was nervous in his first game at Yankee Stadium since being acquired July 16.
"I created a lot of my own trouble," Leiter said. "The basis for every starter is the first couple of innings. I was scrambling right away."
New York also threw out a runner at the plate in the third. Morneau hit a double off the wall in left, scoring Joe Mauer. Boone tried to come around from first but was easily thrown out by Jeter's relay.
- Matsui played in his 424th straight game, tying a major-league record for consecutive games played to start a career. Ernie Banks also played in 424 games for the Chicago Cubs from 1953-56.
- The game was interrupted briefly in the seventh inning when a man ran onto the field and slid into second base. He tipped his cap to the cheering crowd and immediately gave himself up to Yankee Stadium security. The crowd booed heartily when a New York police officer handcuffed him.
- After the game, Yankees team doctor Stuart Hershon said he spoke with injured pitcher Kevin Brown's doctor in Denver but he wasn't ready to discuss the team's plan for Brown, who is out again with a bad back.