MINNEAPOLIS – Johan Santana struck out 13 Saturday to lead the Minnesota Twins to a 5-0 victory over the Chicago White Sox, who have lost seven of their last nine games.

Santana (14-7) has struck out 10 or more batters in eight starts this season and he leads the major leagues with 220 strikeouts. He walked two batters and was backed by Justin Morneau, who hit his career-high 20th homer. Michael Cuddyer also homered for the Twins.

Santana yielded only two hits going into the ninth – Aaron Rowand’s bloop single in the fifth and Juan Uribe’s double in the eighth. But he loaded the bases in the ninth and was relieved by Joe Nathan, who struck out three for his 38th save.

First-place Chicago led the AL Central by 41/2 games entering Saturday. The White Sox had a 91/2-game lead on Sept. 7 and were 15 games up on Aug. 1. No major league team has blown a 15-game lead and failed to make the playoffs. The Boston Red Sox coughed up a 14-game lead to the New York Yankees in 1978.

Santana was making his start three days later than scheduled because of a split fingernail and blister on his left middle finger. Santana, last year’s AL Cy Young Award winner, is 7-2 with an ERA of 1.69 since the All-Star break.

Orlando Hernandez (9-9) labored through 3 2-3 innings, allowing four runs and eight hits. He threw 102 pitches and has lost six of his past seven decisions. In his last two starts, the right-hander is 0-2 with a 12.72 ERA.

The Twins scored the only runs they would need in the fourth inning when they got four off Hernandez and sent 10 men to the plate. Morneau connected for a two-run blast to center field, and Jason Tyner hit a two-run triple. Cuddyer added a solo homer, his 10th of the season, in the seventh off Brandon McCarthy.

The game started at 11:10 a.m. local time because the Metrodome field had to be converted for the University of Minnesota’s football game at night game against Florida Atlantic.

Notes: The Twins improved to 15-6 in games at the Metrodome that have started before noon. … Santana fielded Pablo Uzuna’s grounder and made a diving tag to retire him in the sixth.

AP-ES-09-17-05 1503EDT

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