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09/06/08 1:05 AM ET
Twins ride Liriano's grand performance
Big innings power Minnesota; club stays 1 1/2 behind Chicago
By Kelly Thesier / MLB.com
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Twins returned to the Metrodome on Friday afternoon a bit tired and fatigued from their 14-game, 15-day road trip. Having arrived back to the Twin Cities in the early hours of Friday morning, the Twins' hitters didn't take batting practice before their contest against the Tigers, a move that manager Ron Gardenhire hoped would allow his team a little extra rest following its late arrival home. One Twin that the club hoped would be sharper than the rest was starter Francisco Liriano. The left-hander flew back from Toronto on his own on Thursday afternoon to get plenty of sleep before his start. Not that pitching coach Rick Anderson could tell from the way that Liriano was warming up in the bullpen prior to taking the mound. "He had a really rough warmup and he was kind of rolling his eyes a bit," Anderson said of Liriano. "I was thinking, 'We had to all fly late last night. He got the rest and he's warming up cruddy.' But sometimes that's a good omen." Liriano might not have been sharp in in the bullpen, but that certainly wasn't the case once the game started. On a night when the Twins desperately needed a lift, Liriano provided it, in a 10-2 victory over the Tigers. The left-hander held Detroit to just two runs on five hits over his seven-plus innings and helped Minnesota snap its three-game losing streak. The win also kept the Twins 1 1/2 games behind the White Sox in the American League Central race. It was the second straight start in which Liriano pitched seven innings, having allowed just one run on five hits against Oakland in his last outing. "He threw the ball over, made them swing," Gardenhire said. "That's why he ended up getting deeper into the ballgame tonight. And that's what I hope we see out of him the rest of the way. When he's doing that and effective with all of his pitches, he can go deeper in the ballgame and be a big boost for this ballclub." Since he returned to Minnesota in early August, Liriano has been one of the Twins' most dominant starters. He's now 5-0 with a 1.44 ERA in the seven starts since he was recalled. With his nine strikeouts on Friday night -- a season high -- Liriano has now struck out 38 batters over his 43 2/3 innings during that stretch. "The thing that's made him tough now is he's added that changeup," Justin Morneau said. "I don't want to go this far, but he's almost like [Johan] Santana in that he can throw that changeup when he wants to, and it keeps them off his slider. And when he needs that slider with two strikes, he goes to it. "When he's out there, he's the ace and it's looking like he wants to pitch in those games where we need the wins." Coming off a very disappointing end to their road trip in which they were swept in three games at Toronto, the Twins were looking for Liriano to give the offense a chance to capture the victory. And with Liriano shutting down the Tigers, the Twins hitters were able to take advantage of rookie right-hander Armando Galarraga once again. While Galarraga has been considered one of the top rookies in the AL this season, the Twins have proven to be his toughest opponent. Four of Galarraga's five losses have come against Minnesota and he's 0-4 with a 5.23 ERA in six appearances (five starts) vs. the team this season. On Friday, the Twins tagged Galarraga for six runs over his six innings. Patience was a key early on, as the right-hander issued a total of six walks, three of which loaded the bases with one out in the first inning. Jason Kubel drove in one run in the first with his bases-loaded sac fly to center field. Delmon Young then added another with a one-out solo shot to deep center field, his ninth homer of the season in the fourth inning. But the game was broken open in the fifth inning thanks to Morneau, who blasted the fourth grand slam of his career and his second this season -- the last coming in Texas on April 25. With the Twins holding a 2-1 lead at the start of the fifth, Carlos Gomez led off the inning with a double to left field. Back-to-back walks by Alexi Casilla and Joe Mauer loaded the bases for Morneau. On an 0-1 pitch from Galarraga, Morneau hit a 365-foot shot to right field that gave the Twins a 6-1 lead. It also earned the first baseman his first career curtain call. "That was huge, a big boost in our dugout," Gardenhire said. "It was a nice feeling to see the guys shaking hands, smiling in the dugout, and a little more relaxed atmosphere." The four-run inning in the fifth was the first of two that the Twins would record on the night. Their second came in the seventh, when an RBI single by Mauer, an RBI double by Young and a two-run double by Brian Buscher helped Minnesota extend its lead. It was that long half-inning that made the Twins question whether to bring Liriano out for the eighth. Since Liriano had thrown just 86 pitches, the Twins decided to send him back out for another. But after Liriano (5-3) gave up his second solo homer of the night to Marcus Thames and then allowed the next two batters to reach, the Twins took Liriano out and brought in Matt Guerrier to finish the inning. "I was out of gas," Liriano said. "I felt a little bit tired." Still, Liriano does not seem worried that the same can be said of him as the end of the season is approaching. Although he's now thrown a total of 172 innings between his time at Triple-A Rochester and the Twins this season, Liriano said he's not concerned about his arm getting too much work. It might be his first year back following Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery, but Liriano said that physically he feels great. "My arm doesn't bother me at all," Liriano said. "I can throw like 40 or 50 more innings, so I'm good." With the way Liriano's been lifting the Twins lately, that news must sound as good as any the club has heard.
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.