There were no Major League records set, but Santana did establish a Twins single-game record with 17 strikeouts in just eight innings. The Rangers also struck out twice in the ninth inning against closer Joe Nathan and became the first team since 1950 to strike out 19 times in a game three times in a season.
"[Santana] was great," said shortstop Michael Young, who struck out four times. "That's as good as I've seen his changeup, and that's saying something. Johan always has a chance to be good. He's the best pitcher in the game for a reason. Once he gets going full steam, it's tough to break it up."
Sammy Sosa kept the Rangers from having a no-hitter thrown against them. Santana retired the first 12 batters he faced, but Sosa hit a line-drive single over shortstop to lead off the fifth. He also had a two-out double in the seventh, coming one pitch after he just missed tying up the game with a fly ball down the left-field line that landed a few feet foul past the foul pole.
"You just can't miss a [mistake] against this guy because you're not going to see it again," Sosa said. "You can't swing hard, you just have to make contact because anything can happen. He was great today. I've never seen him like that. He was awesome."
Santana had a shot to at least tie the Major League record for most strikeouts in game, a mark shared by Roger Clemens and Kerry Wood. But he left to a rousing standing ovation from 36,353 fans at the Metrodome at the end of eight innings and let All-Star closer Joe Nathan finish up.
"I felt good," Santana said. "But at the same time, we knew that in that game situation Nathan would be the right guy to go back out there and shut everything out. He's one of the best closers in the game and I trust him."
Rangers pitcher Kevin Millwood was pretty good, too, but giving up one run was too much against Santana. Michael Cuddyer delivered the Twins' only run with a second-inning home run, and Santana wouldn't need anything else.
"That's what great pitchers do," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "They get one run and they make it stand up. That's exactly what they do."
Millwood, who was also the losing pitcher when Mark Buehrle threw his no-hitter against the Rangers in April, allowed just four hits and walked five while striking out three. The home run was the first he has allowed since June 22 against Lance Berkman and the Houston Astros.
"You go out and pitch as well as you can," Millwood said. "When the other guy does what he did, you just have to tip your cap. There's nothing you can do. You don't like it, but he went out and dominated. That's all you can say."
Santana fell one short of the record for most strikeouts by a pitcher against the Rangers. Randy Johnson struck out 18 Rangers on Sept. 27, 1992, and Frank Tanana had 17 against them for the Angels on June 21, 1975.
Sunday's strikeout total also tied for the second-most strikeouts by Rangers hitters in a game this year. They struck out 21 times in a 13-inning game against the Oakland Athletics on Aug. 6, and 19 times in nine innings on April 25 against the Twins. They struck out 18 times against the Twins on May 22. Santana also started that game and struck out 13 in seven innings.
But Santana showed from the beginning that this was going to be a special afternoon. Ian Kinsler grounded out to lead off the first inning, and then Santana struck out the next five hitters. He also struck out two in each of the third, fourth and fifth innings to give him 11 for the game at that point.
The sixth inning probably cost him a chance at Major League history. Jarrod Saltalamacchia flied to right, Ramon Vaquez lined to first and Kinsler flied to right, and that was the only inning in which Santana didn't strike out a batter.
He made up for it by striking out six of the next seven batters, allowing only the double by Sosa in the seventh. He struck out the side in order in the eighth, allowing him to soar past the Twins' old club record of 15 strikeouts in a game, held by four different pitchers, including Bert Blyleven. Santana's personal best had been 14.
"The way he pitched today, he could have gotten 17 strikeouts against any club ... including the 1927 Yankees," Washington said.
Outfielder Brad Wilkerson said Santana's performance ranked right up there with Buehrle's no-hitter as the best pitched game against the Rangers this year.
"In this type of atmosphere, this is the kind of game you want to be in," Wilkerson said. "It was a lot of fun ... a pitchers' duel, and having to fight and scratch for runs. We just couldn't match his force today."