MINNEAPOLIS -- The All-Star game has passed, and that has meant one thing in the Minnesota Twins clubhouse over the last four years -- it's Santana time.
Johan Santana struck out eight in seven scoreless innings to lead the Minnesota Twins to a 5-3 victory over the Oakland Athletics on Friday night.
Santana (11-6) allowed four hits to win his fifth straight start. The reigning AL Cy Young winner is a staggering 41-4 with a major league-leading 427 strikeouts in games played after the All-Star break since 2003.
"It's amazing," Twins first baseman Justin Morneau said. "Today he almost looked like a different pitcher. Like he turned it up and he knows that we need him right now, especially at the end of this month. We've got a lot of ground to make up.
"But he's the best for a reason. He just seems to elevate his game when we need him the most."
The left-hander didn't allow a runner past first base all night and retired 10 of the last 11 batters he faced to lower his ERA to 2.60.
Luis Castillo added two hits and two RBI for the Twins, who entered the night trailing Detroit by 7 games in the AL Central.
"I always say it's not how you start, it's how you finish," Santana said.
The A's are hoping that's the case after losing for the sixth time in seven games.
Lenny DiNardo (3-6) gave up three runs -- two earned -- and eight hits in five innings for Oakland, which scored three runs in the ninth to make things a little interesting.
Eric Chavez hit a two-run homer off Juan Rincon to cut Minnesota's lead to 5-2, and Rincon was charged with a third run when Bobby Crosby scored on a double by Jason Kendall off Joe Nathan.
But Nathan got Shannon Stewart to ground out to second on a close play to get his 17th save in 19 chances.
"It's been a combination of getting behind early and the offense not really taking off," A's manager Bob Geren said. "Hopefully what we did late will catapult us into some offense here."
For the second time this season, DiNardo has come from the bullpen to take Rich Harden's spot in the starting rotation. Harden was placed on the disabled list because of a strained right shoulder on Thursday, and the A's don't know when they will have the fireballer back.
The lefty was shaky in the first inning, allowing two hits and two walks, but he got Joe Mauer to line into a double play and Torii Hunter to ground out with the bases loaded to escape unscathed.
The Twins put one on the board in the third when Castillo doubled and scored on a groundout by Mauer.
Minnesota took advantage of a throwing error by shortstop Crosby to get two more in the fourth. With one on and two out, Nick Punto hit a tough grounder toward the hole that Crosby scooped up. But his throw sailed over first baseman Dan Johnson's head, and the runners advanced to second and third.
Castillo followed with a flare into shallow right to give the Twins a 3-0 lead.
That was more than enough for Santana, who has owned the final 2½ months of the season for the last four years.
He breezed through seven innings, needing just seven of his 91 pitches in a 1-2-3 seventh inning. But Twins manager Ron Gardenhire snapped when asked if he considered sending Santana out for the eighth, pointing to Santana's one-inning outing in Tuesday's All-Star game.
"That's all people want to talk about is leaving a guy out there and shutout," Gardenhire huffed. "We're talking about protecting a young man's arm. Best pitcher in the baseball game, that's what we're going to do."
He ended his press conference after the one question and stormed out of the clubhouse.
The way the A's have been hitting lately, Santana was the last pitcher they needed to see.
Oakland has produced just 382 runs this season, the second fewest runs in the AL, and entered the game with a .238 average with runners in scoring position, the lowest mark in the AL.
"Until you start piling up wins, it's going to be tough to go out there and play," Chavez said. "No speech or one outing is going to beat wins. Until that happens, it's going to be a long second half."
Stewart went 0-for-5, snapping his 15-game hitting streak, which was the longest active streak in the AL. ... Twins SS Jason Bartlett got an infield single in the first inning when he chopped the ball off the dirt and then off his foot. Geren came out to argue that it should have been a foul ball, and replays supported that stance, but home plate umpire Jim Reynolds didn't see it.