MINNEAPOLIS -- Even though the Minnesota Twins have been eliminated from the playoffs, their ace proved it isn't time to stop trying.
Johan Santana allowed six hits over seven innings, keeping his bid for a second consecutive Cy Young award alive, and the Twins snapped their four-game losing streak with a 3-1 victory over the Kansas City Royals on Tuesday night.
"Even though we're out of contention, we still have some things to do," Santana said, referring to the Cy Young award. "It would be good for the fans, good for my teammates and good for myself to do something special."
He gave up four hits in the first two innings, but didn't allow another hit until Matthew Diaz's solo homer in the seventh. After the homer, Paul Phillips doubled and reached third on Donnie Murphy's sacrifice bunt. But Santana retired Andres Blanco and Chip Ambres to escape the inning.
"He didn't even look like he was sweating, for God's sakes," Royals manager Buddy Bell said. "You've got to at least sweat."
He struck out six, running his major league-leading total to 229, and walked two before being relieved by Juan Rincon in the eighth inning. Joe Nathan pitched a perfect ninth for his 40th save.
Royals starter Runelvys Hernandez began the game by walking Nick Punto and Luis Rodriguez. A passed ball by Phillips allowed Punto to advance to third. Joe Mauer's single scored Punto, and Lew Ford drove in Rodriguez with a sacrifice fly two batters later.
After the first inning, Hernandez allowed one hit over the next four innings. But against Santana, that wasn't good enough.
Following the shaky start, Santana retired nine in a row and 11 of 13, helping the Twins bounce back from an embarrassing 5-0 loss to Kansas City on Monday.
"We hit some balls decent, but we made some early count outs that hurt us," Bell said.
Diaz and Phillips each had two hits for the Royals.
Minnesota put the game away in the bottom of the seventh. Luis Rivas singled and Punto doubled to start the inning. Rodriguez's sacrifice fly scored Rivas and chased Hernandez (5-13).
The loss continued a difficult two months for Hernandez, who allowed three runs and five hits and walked four in 6 1/3 innings. He hasn't posted a victory since winning for the third consecutive time on July 22. He was suspended for 10 games in July and was on the disabled list from Aug. 26-Sept. 6 with lower back tightness.
"I know we got the loss, but we did all we could do," Hernandez said. "I felt like my fastball was working after the first inning. It's Johan Santana out there, and you've got to battle back."
Santana's 2.92 ERA ties him with Cleveland's Kevin Millwood for first in the AL and gives him at least a share of the lead in two of the three major pitching categories. He trails Anaheim's Bartolo Colon by five wins, but he said he still considers himself a contender.
"I never give up. What's going to happen, I don't know," Santana said. "But we're going to make it close.
"I wanted to show it wasn't a fluke last year. The numbers are there and the stats are there."
And though his team's offense might be the biggest reason Santana is a long shot, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire made his opinion clear.
"(Santana) already has done everything he can do. He can't vote for himself," Gardenhire said. "I hope they don't punish the pitcher for the problems our offense has had this year. He's a pitcher. He's the man."
The Twins scored in the first inning for the first time since Aug. 30. They were 8-16 in that span. ... Santana has an 8-2 record and 1.88 ERA since the All-Star break. ... Nathan became the third Twins pitcher to record 40 saves in consecutive seasons, joining Rick Aguilera (1991-92) and Eddie Guardado (2002-03). ... Diaz's homer was his first since Sept. 22, 2004, which came against the Royals when he was with Tampa Bay.