MINNEAPOLIS -- Sometimes, as Tom Petty so aptly put it, the waiting is the hardest part.
That was certainly the case for left-hander Francisco Liriano, who was within six outs of his second no-hitter of the season but lost the bid on a single from Adrian Beltre to lead off the eighth after a lengthy bottom of the seventh kept him in the dugout for 30 minutes.
He lost the shutout, too, on an RBI single by Yorvit Torrealba, but his brilliant performance helped the Twins to a 6-1 win over the Rangers on Sunday afternoon in front of a sold-out crowd of 39,281 at Target Field.
An injury delay after Texas starter Matt Harrison was struck in the left arm on a line drive off the bat of Danny Valencia and a five-run outburst from his own offense simply gave Liriano too much time to think about his chase for a second no-no.
"It didn't bother me physically, but I started thinking too much about that no-hitter," Liriano said of the long wait. "I tried to overthrow that inning and was trying to be too perfect. And then I gave up a hit when I got behind in the count."
Liriano was at only 73 pitches entering that eighth inning, but it was apparent the long delay had taken its toll, as he was much more erratic, falling behind Beltre, 3-0, before giving up the hit on a 3-1 fastball.
"He was just trying to spot the corner," Beltre said. "The guy was throwing a no-hitter; he's not going to keep it in the middle of the plate. He was trying to hit the corners, but the ball ran away. On 3-1 he was just trying to throw a strike, and he left it over the middle of the plate."
Just 40 days after holding the White Sox hitless on May 3, Liriano nearly became the first pitcher in Twins history to throw two no-hitters in the regular season and only the fifth in Major League history to accomplish the feat. (Roy Halladay's second no-hitter came in the playoffs vs. the Reds in Game 1 of the 2010 National League Division Series.)
Liriano's performance also gave the Twins their ninth win in their last 11 games and helped Minnesota win its third straight series after taking three out of four against Texas. The Twins are nine games out of first place in the American League Central after falling a season-worst 16 1/2 games back on June 1.
Liriano was simply dominant, striking out nine and needing just 97 pitches to go eight innings. It was a different story than his no-no against the White Sox, in which he walked six and threw 123 pitches.
Liriano said that this performance was more impressive because he had better command.
"I was locating pitches better today, even though I threw that no-hitter that day," he said. "Physically, I feel better, too, so my pitches were sharper than they were the night I threw that no-hitter. So everything is getting better."
Manager Ron Gardenhire agreed, saying he was more impressed with Sunday's performance.
"He was in more control of the game here than the other one," Gardenhire said. "He was kind of misfiring in the other one and was effectively wild, but here he was around the zone quite a bit. He was in and out, too, and the ball was diving. He was in control, so this was definitely one of those games where he had no-hitter stuff and no-hitter-in-the-strike-zone stuff. It was fun to watch."
Liriano's chance for the first perfect game in franchise history was lost in the seventh inning, when Elvis Andrus hit a slow roller down the third-base line that bounced off Luke Hughes' glove for an error. Andrus ended up reaching second on the play but was stranded when Josh Hamilton flied out to right fielder Jason Repko and Michael Young flied out to center fielder Ben Revere.
"That's the last thing you want to do, is drop-kick a ball into the dugout," Hughes said. "But [Liriano] did a great job. He's really stepped it up the last couple of outings when he came off the DL, so it's great to watch."
Hughes' error aside, Liriano did have the help of his defense, with Repko making a sliding catch down the right-field line on a fly ball to rob Beltre of a hit for the second out of the second inning. And before his misplay, Hughes made an impressive diving stop on a hard grounder by Ian Kinsler to lead off the fourth.
It was an especially impressive outing for Liriano, considering it was just his second start since returning from the disabled list after a two-week bout with inflammation in his left shoulder. He was on a pitch count in his previous start, in which he went five innings against the Indians, allowing an unearned run on three hits and three walks while throwing 81 pitches.
This time, however, there were no limitations, but the Twins opted to turn to right-hander Alex Burnett for the ninth inning, as Liriano had thrown 97 pitches (64 for strikes).
The Twins scored their first run in the first inning, when Revere and Cuddyer walked before Hughes laced a two-out single that scored Revere.
And they added five runs in the seventh with the help of an error by Andrus at shortstop on a ball that went off his glove and into center field to score Valencia, who hit a line drive off the arm of Harrison to open the inning. Harrison had to leave the game and was replaced by Mark Lowe, who was roughed up by the Twins.
Alexi Casilla sent home a second run with a single off Andrus' glove after Revere reached despite striking out because of a wild pitch. Cuddyer then plated three runs with his ninth homer of the year.
"The big inning was good for us, and we scored some runs, but it was 30 minutes where [Liriano] could do nothing," Rivera said. "So it hurt him a little bit."
But Cuddyer wasn't so sure the long inning was a bad thing, as it did give the Twins some much-needed insurance runs.
"You score as many runs as you can, especially against a team like that," Cuddyer said. "First and foremost, you want to win. Obviously, everyone wanted to see a no-hitter, everybody wanted to have that happen, but the bottom line is, you want to win the game."