MINNEAPOLIS -- The zeroes kept going up on the board, one after another. Yet Johan Santana insists that he never once thought about throwing a no-hitter on Sunday.
Santana and the Minnesota Twins are just focusing on wins after a disastrous April.
Santana struck out 11 and carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning of a 4-2 victory over the Detroit Tigers, helping the Twins take two of three in the weekend series.
"I was just thinking about how important the win is," said Santana, whose team is already nine games back of division-leading Chicago in the AL Central. "We're trying to get closer in the standings."
Santana (3-3) kept the Tigers off balance with a dazzling slider and a changeup that had knees buckling up and down the order to even his record after a rough April. He retired the first 13 batters before he walked Marcus Thames with one out in the fifth.
Santana hit a batter in the sixth and Ivan Rodriguez led off the seventh with a single, ending his bid for the first no-hitter since Randy Johnson threw a perfect game for the Arizona Diamondbacks against Atlanta in 2004.
"That looked like a no-hitter day," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said of Santana's dominance in the early going. "It really did. ... When Johan's going good, he has electric-type stuff. He's capable of doing that anytime."
The home crowd gave him a standing ovation to salute the effort, but the Tigers made things interesting after that.
Magglio Ordonez, who entered the game with a .421 career average against Santana, followed with a two-run homer to cut the Minnesota lead to 4-2 and Detroit had two more hits in the inning. But Santana got out of the jam and yielded to Juan Rincon in the eighth. Joe Nathan pitched the ninth for his fourth save in as many opportunities.
Michael Cuddyer continued a strong May with two hits and two RBI and Luis Castillo had two hits and a home run for the Twins, who took two of three from the Tigers after being outscored 33-1 in a three-game sweep in Detroit last weekend.
"It's good to win a series," Gardenhire said. "They handled us pretty well at their place. ... To win two of three against this team, which is very hot right now, it feels good."
Mike Maroth (4-2) had a rough day for the Tigers, allowing four runs and nine hits in five innings.
That was more than enough for Santana, the former AL Cy Young winner who got off to a slow start this season after pitching for Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic. He was 0-3 in his first four starts, but has bounced back with impressive outings in his last three starts, all wins.
"Santana was unbelievable," Tigers third baseman Brandon Inge said. "He is such a smart pitcher and he crushed us tonight. That is the bottom line."
Maroth has been the ringleader of Detroit's suddenly potent pitching staff. He entered the game with a 1.78 ERA and had allowed more than one earned run in just one of his first five starts.
Cuddyer and the Twins got to him right away on Sunday.
With two on and two out in the first, Cuddyer belted a drive to the gap in left-center field that Thames almost chased down. The ball glanced off the tip of his glove for a triple that gave the Twins a 2-0 lead.
Maroth threw 100 pitches in his five innings, while Santana needed just 74 to get through six, thanks in large part to a seven-pitch first inning and a 10-pitch sixth.
"I had too many runners on base," Maroth said. "I was behind hitters. If (Santana) is on his game, you know runs could be few. There were too many baserunners. I didn't have my control."
Santana also got some help from Torii Hunter in the fifth. Ordonez ripped one to the gap in left-center, but the Gold Glover raced over and made a lunging, backhanded snare to keep the no-hitter alive.
"That's in my top three, if not number one," Hunter said.
Santana pumped his fist and hollered after seeing the catch, but he started to labor in the seventh and the Tigers threatened to spoil the show.
"I wished we played tomorrow," Detroit manager Jim Leyland said. "We are playing well. We were two outs away from winning the series. We are playing good."
- Tigers 2B Placido Polanco missed his third straight game with a sore back.
- Chris Shelton singled in the seventh to snap an 0-for-9 skid.
- It was Santana's 25th career double-digit strikeout game and second of the season.
- Eric Milton was the last Twin to throw a no-hitter, on Sept. 11, 1999, against the Rangers.