Nathan saved the victory for Santana, and the Twins hung on to beat the Red Sox 2-1 on Saturday night.
"Their bullpen won this game, not Santana," said Boston's Julian Tavarez, whose best start this year was wasted by 12 runners left on base that equaled a season high. "We had a lot of chances, and they always got the big out when they needed it."
Santana (4-2) wasn't arguing with that.
"It was all about the bullpen tonight," he said. "They did a great job. That's what this team is all about. We appreciate everything."
Jason Bartlett's infield single in a two-run second inning was enough to beat Tavarez (1-3), who outpitched the two-time AL Cy Young Award winner but was stuck with another loss.
Tavarez struck out seven while allowing four hits, two runs and three walks in six innings. It was his longest outing this year and the only time he has allowed fewer than three runs.
"He was outstanding," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said.
With only one victory in the previous six days, Minnesota needed a lift from Santana -- who lost his last two starts at home to end a personal streak of 17 straight victories at the Metrodome. The pick-me-up came instead from the bullpen, who held Boston hitless over the final four innings despite four walks.
After allowing a pair of two-out RBI singles in Wednesday's game at Tampa Bay for his first blown save, Nathan had some extra adrenaline and spotted his fastball better on Saturday.
"Facing those guys with a one-run lead is never easy," said Nathan, who got the last four outs for his eighth save. "I think it definitely raises the level of your game and gets you to probably a level that you probably can't get to."
Santana hasn't been very sharp, by his standards, over the last three weeks, but he is typically a slow starter who finds his rhythm after the All-Star break.
Though Santana lasted at least five innings for the 98th consecutive start, that's all he went after throwing 98 pitches -- including 30 in the first frame. He surrendered seven hits and two walks while striking out five.
"We had some good opportunities, but didn't come through," Pedroia said. "He is a very special pitcher. He gets outs when he needs them."
Torii Hunter extended his hitting streak to 20 games with a double in the sixth for the Twins, matching the longest streak in the majors this season with Derek Jeter of the New York Yankees.
Minnesota entered the game with a .277 team average, tied for the top spot in the league, but the lineup is struggling. Cleanup hitter Michael Cuddyer won't play until at least Tuesday because of a bruised back, and catcher Joe Mauer -- the reigning AL batting champion -- was scratched from the lineup because of a sore left quadriceps muscle.
With a league-low 16 homers, 12 of which have come with nobody on base, Minnesota used a small-ball rally -- emphasis on small -- to score twice in the second inning against Tavarez.
Morneau's one-out single was the only ball that escaped the infield. Jason Kubel and Jeff Cirillo followed with walks. Jason Tyner drove in the first run with a grounder, and Bartlett's sharp single glanced off Lowell's glove at third to make it 2-0.
The offensive problems have magnified the importance of Hunter's hot streak.
"We need it right now, with all the other guys beat up and banged up," manager Ron Gardenhire said.
- Curt Schilling, Boston's scheduled starter on Sunday, has the only current five-inning streak (147 straight starts) longer than Santana's.
- The Twins honored farm director Jim Rantz, who has held that position since 1986, with induction into their 17-member Hall of Fame in a pregame ceremony. Rantz threw the ceremonial first pitch to left-hander Francisco Liriano, who won the team's minor league pitcher of the year award -- named after Rantz -- in 2005.
- Liriano, who won't pitch this season after reconstructive elbow surgery, has been rehabilitating in Florida -- but joined the team this weekend for a scenery change.
- Red Sox CF Coco Crisp did not start because of a stiff neck. He made a pinch-running appearance.