Liriano pitches Twins to first-place tie
Lefty's dominating win, White Sox loss knots AL Central
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Twins welcomed Carlos Silva back to the Metrodome on Friday by contributing to the right-hander's continued nightmare 2008 campaign. Meanwhile, Minnesota starter Francisco Liriano resumed his stellar return from the Minors. He did it by stealing a page from Silva's old playbook -- keeping the ball down and blitzing through opposing lineups by racking up huge amounts of ground-ball outs.The combination helped the Twins breeze to a 9-3 victory, and a walk-off loss by the White Sox put the Twins in first place in the American League Central Division. Minnesota battered Silva, who left the club to sign with Seattle in the offseason, to the tune of nine earned runs and nine hits in 3 1/3 innings. The Twins jumped on the beleaguered veteran early, ensuring that Silva (4-14, 6.36 ERA) wouldn't have a happy homecoming in his first start against Minnesota. "I wouldn't say I was licking my chops, but I knew he was struggling," outfielder Denard Span said. Span led off the first by hitting a rocket that bounced off the wall in deep center for a double ("Get on the strength coach, not me," Span joked after the game). Nick Punto followed with an RBI double to left-center. Two batters later, a Justin Morneau sacrifice fly gave Minnesota a 2-0 advantage. Seattle made up the deficit via Brian Buscher's error in the fourth inning. With the bases loaded and two outs, Wladimir Balentien hit a grounder to third that bounced off Buscher's wrist and into left field, allowing two runners to score. "[The] ball took a funny hop on Busch-Man. We call that the football hop -- after they play football here, the ball does a few funny things," manager Ron Gardenhire said, adding levity to a miscue that would lose significance by game's end. Liriano calmed himself quickly and retired Kenji Johjima with runners on second and third. "I don't get frustrated at all-- that's a part of the game," Liriano said. "You just have to make good pitches and try to get the next guy out." Jason Kubel made the crowd of 32,208 forget the mistake in the bottom half of the frame, blasting a 1-1 changeup over the center-field wall for a two-run homer. The Twins were only getting warmed up. Minnesota had five more singles in the inning before Silva was pulled. Reliever Jake Woods also surrendered two singles before escaping the frame. The total damage: seven runs on eight hits. It tied Minnesota's season high for runs in an inning and set the season high for hits in an inning. "[Silva] lives and dies with his sinker and getting you to hit it at people," Gardenhire said. "We didn't hit it at 'em tonight ... we stayed on the ball and shot it the other way." Liriano went seven innings, allowing no earned runs on two hits and two walks while striking out five. He is 3-0 with a 1.45 ERA since being called up from Triple-A Rochester on Aug. 1. "Everything is working like it was in Triple-A, so I am pretty happy," Liriano said. "He hasn't had a bad [start] yet," Gardenhire said. Two-thirds of Liriano's outs came via ground balls -- 14 of 21. Only two outs came on fly balls. "Frankie was out there, getting a lot of ground balls just like [Silva used to]," Nick Punto said. "[Silva] left a couple pitches up, and that was it." Liriano was only in serious trouble in the fourth, when he gave up a ground-rule double and two walks to load the bases before Buscher's error. Gardenhire said after the game that the lefty was throwing too many sliders in the fourth, and that it "got him out of whack" by causing him to lose his release point. Liriano made an adjustment and finished the game by throwing more fastballs. On the other side, the Twins offense took advantage of a former friend who was not making adjustments. Silva did not surprise Minnesota with his repertoire on Friday. "I talked to Joe Mauer before the game, obviously his ex-catcher, and he told me he threw a lot of sinkers, middle-away, and every now and then came in just to freeze you a little bit. Everybody had a pretty good idea of what he threw," Span said. "We basically know what he's got. ... It kind of helps that he was with us for so long, we kind of know what he is going to throw and what he's got," Kubel said. "We all had the same game plan -- stay through that sinker, changeup." Liriano's season is following a contradictory arc to his former teammate. After going 0-3 with an 11.32 ERA with Minnesota in April, Liriano gathered himself at Rochester and now appears to be getting stronger by the appearance. "Each outing is getting better, he's getting deeper in games now," Kubel said. "He's doing nothing wrong right now; as long as he keeps it up, he's really going to help us out down the stretch."
Thor Nystrom is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.