Boston left 12 men on base, at least one in every inning except the seventh, and went 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position to squander Tavarez's first quality start of the season. Tavarez allowed only the two runs, both in a sloppy second inning that featured an outfield error and two walks. He fanned seven in six innings while permitting four hits.
"I know our hitters couldn't wait for Santana to get out of the game," the 33-year-old Tavarez said. "But then their bullpen shut us down. I think their bullpen won the game, not Santana. Those last four innings, they were unbelieveable."
Nathan, who has struggled lately, came on for the four-out save. Neshek had walked Jason Varitek and pinch-hitter Eric Hinske back-to-back in the eighth before Nathan drew an inning-ending flyout from Alex Cora, another pinch-hitter.
And Nathan had to work even harder in the ninth after third baseman Nick Punto mishandled a Kevin Youkilis grounder for an error, bringing up David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez with one out and the tying run at first. Torii Hunter ran down Ortiz's deep drive to center before Nathan struck out Ramirez swinging at a high fastball.
That made Santana (4-2) the winner on a night he gave up seven hits, walked two, threw two wild pitches and pitched from the stretch in every inning.
"We made him pitch," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said, "but we didn't have much to show for it."
Sox hitters showed patience early. Santana labored through a 30-pitch first inning, walking two batters and nearly a third without allowing a run -- a key inability to capitalize by the Red Sox.
With a runner at first and one out, third-base umpire Jeff Nelson called out Ortiz trying to check a swing on a 3-2 pitch, to which Ortiz loudly objected, yelling back as he headed to the dugout. Santana then walked Ramirez and J.D. Drew on full counts to load the bases. But Mike Lowell bounced out to Punto, who made a diving stop and threw out Lowell from his knees.
American League batting champion Joe Mauer was scratched from Minnesota's original lineup with a sore left quadriceps muscle, leaving the Twins particularly punchless. Without Mauer or Michael Cuddyer (sore back), manager Ron Gardenhire sent out a batting order with seven hitters who do not have a home run this season. Only Hunter and Justin Morneau, batting fourth and fifth respectively, had homered before Saturday night (six each).
The Twins scratched out their runs in the second. Wily Mo Pena, starting in center for Coco Crisp (stiff neck), fumbled Morneau's one-out single to put a runner in scoring position. Two walks followed, with Jason Tyner's forceout and an infield single by Jason Bartlett bringing in the runs.
"They had some timely hitting early in the game," Dustin Pedroia said, "and that was it."
Pedroia's RBI double just inside the left-field line in the fourth came after Santana wild-pitched Pena to second and then third. Though Santana was done earlier than expected, he lasted at least five innings for the 98th consecutive start, a streak that began on May 29, 2004.
"A couple of years ago, they won the World Series," Santana said of the Red Sox. "They've got one of the toughest lineups in the game. ... They fouled off a lot of pitches, and made me throw a lot of pitches. It was all about the bullpen tonight."
And especially Nathan, pitching for the first time since blowing his first save of the season on Wednesday night to Tampa Bay. In the ninth, he battled Ortiz to a full count. A borderline 1-1 pitch at the knees to Ramirez that umpire Jim Wolf called a strike left Ramirez in a defensive posture, and Nathan challenged him with a fastball.
"They have one of the best bullpens in baseball," Francona said. "Ahead or behind, they've got somebody they have a lot of confidence in. They have righties who match up very well against righties or lefties."