By: Sam Ekstrom
Francisco Liriano finally got some early run-support. Staked to a 3-0 lead after two innings, Liriano slammed the door on the first-place Chicago White Sox and delivered one of his best performances of the year en route to a 4-1 Twins win.
The Twins’ lefty was at his finest Monday night, striking out five and scattering four hits through seven innings. In Liriano’s last four starts, the Twins had scored just seven runs total. The offense only needed a mild output this night to give their starter all he needed. A masterful array of pitches had Sox hitters off balance all evening, including slugger Adam Dunn who struck out four times.
“Everything’s getting better. I think I’m doing my job better, and it’s getting better for us, and I’m so glad about that,” said Liriano after the game.
The hurler’s toughest test came in the seventh inning after a leadoff double to Alex Rios. Liriano, who’s been hurt by his control problems in previous starts, dealt a wild pitch that put Rios on third with nobody out. However, unlike prior outings, Liriano bore down and limited the damage to just an Alexei Ramirez sac fly, keeping the Twins on top by two.
Said Liriano on his seven innings, “That was a lot for me. The last couple starts in the fifth and the sixth, I’ve been throwing a lot of pitches those two innings. It was a lot for me to throw seven innings tonight.”
His seven-inning start was the left hander’s lengthiest of the season, as well as his third consecutive quality start. Manager Ron Gardenhire had a decision to make in the seventh with Alex Burnett warming in the bullpen.
“I told Andy, I said, ‘He can get through this. Let’s let him work his way through it,’ and he did. He made some good pitches.”
The Twins’ closer-by-committee came through again in the ninth. With Capps now officially on the disabled list, Minnesota went with Jared Burton to close for the second straight day. The right-hander got his second save, allowing only a one-out walk. Glen Perkins, Gardenhire’s other closing option, pitched a scoreless eighth for the Twins.
Offensively the Twins did all their dirty work the first trip through the order against Jake Peavy, who hadn’t allowed a run at Target Field in two 2011 starts. A first-inning sac fly off the bat of Joe Mauer drove in Denard Span for the game’s first run. An inning later, the Twins cashed in on a throwing error. Fielding a Brian Dozier single, right fielder Alex Rios skipped a throw past third baseman Kevin Youkilis in an attempt to gun down Trevor Plouffe, allowing Plouffe to scamper home. Jamey Carroll added an RBI single two batters later to make it 3-0.
The Twins’ pitching dominance overshadowed a game in which they squandered many chances to break the score open. Minnesota stranded at least two runners in the second, third, fifth, seventh, and eighth innings. After Carroll’s second inning knock, the only run the Twins could push across came on a Trevor Plouffe sacrifice fly in the seventh, making it 4-1.
The win, of course, went to Liriano, making him 2-7. The Twins (30-42) won their 30th game, becoming the last American League team to do so. They moved to within 7.5 games of Chicago (38-35).
Peavy, allowing three runs and 10 hits in six innings, dropped to 6-4 with the loss, but still contributed a quality start, his 13th in 15 starts on the season. The White Sox are still clinging to a half-game lead atop the AL Central.
NOTES: The Twins are now 19-8 when they score first… After striking out four times, Adam Dunn is on pace to shatter the single-season strikeout record; he has 119 in 73 games played… The top-third of the Twins order went 9-for-14 on the night, including another four-hit night from Ben Revere… Kevin Youkilis went 1-for-4 in his first game with Chicago after being traded from Boston on Sunday.