Liriano pitches Twins past Mariners
Rookie lefty strikes out six in five shutout innings
MINNEAPOLIS -- It was billed as the matchup of two phenom pitchers and it sure didn't disappoint.Francisco Liriano and Felix Hernandez both showed on Friday night why they have been hyped as two of the best young hurlers in baseball. But in the end, it was Liriano who was the recipient of just a little added luck as the Twins defeated the Mariners, 3-1, at the Metrodome before a crowd of 28,082. "That's what it's all about in this game ... watching two young pitchers go at it and throw the ball out there like that," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "That's excitement in itself." Excitement was in high demand in the Metrodome on Friday night as the Twins celebrated the signing of the team's new stadium bill by Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty with an on-field ceremony. So it seemed only fitting that on a night where the future of the Twins organization was sealed with the stadium plan, it was one of Minnesota's future stars who took hold of the game. Still limited on a pitch count as the club tries to stretch the converted reliever out, Liriano (3-0) threw a total of 82 pitches over five innings in only his second start of the season. The southpaw allowed four hits, walking one and striking out six. The dominance of Liriano was put on display early on as he retired 11 consecutive batters after allowing a single to Ichiro Suzuki to lead off the game. Dazzling with both his breaking ball and fastball, Liriano delivered the type of stuff the Twins have long known he has possessed. "Everybody wanted him in trades this winter, and there is a reason why we don't even talk about moving him and that's because he is very talented," Gardenhire said. But the outing wasn't completely problem-free for Liriano. A bit tired following the fourth inning with his pitch count already near 70, the left-hander loaded the bases with no outs in the fifth inning. With the Twins up, 3-0, and an immense amount of pressure riding upon his young 22-year-old shoulders, Liriano was able to record a crucial strikeout against Yuniesky Betancourt. But Liriano still wasn't out of trouble yet. With just the one out and the bases full, Ichiro was up to bat, and that spelled trouble for both the Twins skipper and pitcher. "He's tough," Liriano said of the Mariners leadoff man. "Every pitch you throw, he makes contact."
Said Gardenhire: "You have a feeling he's going to hit, you just hope it's at somebody."Ichiro connected on a pitch for a low-line shot to center field, but as has been the case so many times, the five-time Gold Glover roaming the middle of the outfield was able to make the grab. "I knew I had that," Torii Hunter said of his impressive catch. "If you leave it up, I'm going to get it. Defense is something that I'm very cocky about." Hunter was able to do more than just catch the ball, throwing out Kenji Johjima at second base to complete the double play and record the final out of the inning and Liriano's night. "Torii made a great play," Liriano said. "And sometimes you have to be lucky to win a game." Luck may have helped the pitcher on that play, but Liriano was also fortunate that his offense was able to get to Hernandez early. The Twins would find a way score off Hernandez (3-6) in the second. A single to right by Tony Batista plated one run, and another followed as Juan Castro grounded into a double play that allowed Rondell White to score. Joe Mauer then blasted his fourth home run of the season in the third inning, a 427-foot shot over the center-field wall that gave the Twins a 3-0 lead. Hernandez, though, settled down, retiring the final 14 batters he faced. He threw seven innings, giving up the three runs on five hits while striking out eight. "He settled down after the first two, three innings and he was nasty," Hunter said. "I never faced him before. I was hurt last year when [the Twins] faced [the Mariners]. I wish I could talk to him and say, 'Hey, I need your autograph,' because he's going to be a superstar. The kid is good." The Twins almost found a way to help Hernandez out, getting themselves into a bit of trouble in the seventh. Bentancourt hit a high pop toward right that fell between first baseman Justin Morneau and second baseman Luis Castillo, allowing Seattle's lone run to score. But the defense redeemed itself on the play by catching Adrian Beltre in a rundown between third and home to record the final out of the inning. After allowing just the one run to score in the seventh, the bullpen shut down the Mariners the rest of the way, including closer Joe Nathan recording his first save since May 10. And while there was plenty of joy in the Twins' clubhouse following the victory, another strong sense overwhelmed the team. It was a feeling by all involved that there was something special witnessed in the first of what likely will be many duels between the two pitchers. "One day, you can sit back and say you saw them early on, the first matchup they faced each other," White said. "They could both easily win the Cy Young if they keep pitching the way they pitched tonight."
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.