Cy Young winner hasn't lost in 20 starts

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) -- Johan Santana is having too much fun to worry about the baseball history he could soon make.

The Minnesota left-hander struck out eight and gave up only five hits through eight cold, blustery innings Tuesday night to beat the Kansas City Royals 2-1 for his 17th consecutive victory.

With three more wins, he would tie Roger Clemens' AL record.

"I don't really think about it," said Santana (4-0), the AL's reigning Cy Young Award winner. "I think it's good to know you're doing something special. But I don't put that in my mind. I just want to play the game and have fun. Baseball is my passion. That's what I like to do."

This was a win Santana had to work for, with Jose Lima matching him pitch for pitch until the eighth, when Tony Pena went to his bullpen in a move that's sure to bring renewed criticism to the manager of a 5-15 team that has the worst record in the majors.

Andy Sisco relieved Lima and got the last out of the eighth and first of the ninth. Then Pena brought in rookie Ambiorix Burgos (0-1) for his second appearance since being called up from Double-A Wichita.

Matthew LeCroy singled. After a throwing error by third baseman Joe McEwing allowed pinch-runner Jason Bartlett to reach third, Lew Ford singled softly over second baseman Tony Graffanino for the go-ahead run.

"It was a terrible throw," McEwing said. "It's a play I've got to make to keep us in a tight game and I didn't make it."

Joe Nathan pitched the ninth for his sixth save in six chances.

Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire said no one on the team is talking about Santana's amazing streak.

"The only time I hear about it is when you guys ask us about it," he told reporters. "We don't sit around and talk about it. We just say he's unbelievable."

Lima went 7 2/3 innings and gave up five hits and one run, with three walks and four strikeouts.

Lima gave up a walk and three hits in the first, falling behind on Justin Morneau's RBI single. He then settled down and retired 21 of his next 23 batters.

"I'm the kind of guy if you don't get to me in the first three innings then I always settle down and pitch well," he said.

"Today it was like, 'Please, please, let me get out of this first inning.' Then they got a blooper and another blooper. It's tough," he said.

He could not beat Santana, who has not lost in 20 starts since a 2-0 defeat against Detroit last July 11 and seems to be pitching as well as he did during his Cy Young season.

"I feel pretty good," he said. "It's about health. Right now I'm healthy and things come out good. Like I say, if you're healthy everything's going to be fine. I feel pretty good. I feel strong. My arm's fine. My legs are pretty good."

Terrence Long singled off Santana leading off the fifth, took second on an infield out and scored on a single by Matt Diaz, the No. 9 hitter.

Game notes
The results of an MRI exam on right-hander Grant Balfour, on the DL with a right forearm strain, were inconclusive. He will go to Cincinnati for an exploratory arthroscopic procedure. ... Nick Punto made a standout play on Alberto Castillo's grounder to deep shortstop in the fifth. ... All three of the Royals' batters in the sixth popped up to shortstop.