Santana struck out 13 in eight-plus innings Saturday to lead the Minnesota Twins to a 5-0 victory over the White Sox, who have lost seven of their past nine games.
The left-hander received a standing ovation from the crowd of 24,866 when he left with the bases loaded and none out in the ninth inning.
"That means you're doing something good and the fans are enjoying what they're watching," Santana said. "So it's always good to make people happy ... I don't think there can be any better feeling than that."
Santana (14-7) has struck out 10 or more in eight starts this season and he leads the major leagues with 220 strikeouts. He allowed four hits and walked two.
"He's always good. Today he was off the charts," Chicago's Paul Konerko said. "That's the best I've seen from him, which is saying something."
Santana yielded only two hits going into the ninth -- Aaron Rowand's bloop single in the fifth and Juan Uribe's double in the eighth. But he loaded the bases in the ninth and was relieved by Joe Nathan, who struck out three for his 38th save.
Santana continued his dominance against the White Sox. In his past six starts against them, he is 6-0 with a 0.81 ERA and 54 strikeouts in 44 1/3 innings.
"I'm a little biased, but I think he's the best," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "There's other guys that have better numbers ... but to me, it doesn't get much better than Johan in this league. Not much better than him."
First-place Chicago leads Cleveland in the AL Central by 3½ games.
The White Sox had a 9½-game lead on Sept. 7 and were 15 games up on Aug. 1. No major league team has blown a lead that big over the next closest competitor, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The Brooklyn Dodgers failed to make the playoffs in 1951 after holding a 13-game lead on Aug. 11 of that year.
The Boston Red Sox coughed up a 14-game lead to the Yankees in 1978, but New York was not in second place at the time it faced that deficit.
Santana was making his start three days later than scheduled because of a split fingernail and blister on his left middle finger. Santana, last year's AL Cy Young Award winner, is 7-2 with a 1.69 ERA since the All-Star break.
Gardenhire believes Santana deserves Cy Young consideration this season, too.
"I'm sure he'll get votes," Gardenhire said. "If he doesn't get votes, then the wrong people are voting."
Orlando Hernandez (9-9) labored through 3 2/3 innings, allowing four runs and eight hits. He threw 102 pitches and has lost six of his past seven decisions. In his past two starts, the right-hander is 0-2 with a 12.72 ERA.
"It's a bad time for me right now," Hernandez said. "I don't have answers."
Following the game, manager Ozzie Guillen said the White Sox would evaluate Hernandez's status in the rotation when they returned to Chicago after this weekend's series.
Rookie Brandon McCarthy, who gave up one run in three innings of relief Saturday, would be Hernandez's replacement.
"It's a tough situation to be in," said McCarthy, who has made seven starts this season. "I certainly don't wish anything against him. If it stays the way it is, I just have to be ready when called upon."
The Twins scored the only runs they would need in the fourth inning when they got four off Hernandez and sent 10 men to the plate. Morneau connected for a two-run blast to center field, and Jason Tyner hit a two-run triple. Cuddyer added a solo homer, his 10th of the season, in the seventh off McCarthy.
The game started at 11:10 a.m. local time because the Metrodome field had to be converted for the University of Minnesota's football game at night game against Florida Atlantic.
- The Twins improved to 15-6 in games at the Metrodome that have started before noon.
- Santana fielded Pablo Uzuna's grounder and made a diving tag to retire him in the sixth.
- Konerko went 0-for-3 with a walk and is 2-for-21 since moving to the third spot in the batting order.