Photo - AP Photo/Genevieve Ross
By: Sam Ekstrom
Francisco Liriano faced off against his former team Tuesday night, but it was another ex-Twin that did the most damage.
A.J. Pierzynski launched a two-run home run to break a tie in the ninth inning and the Chicago White Sox evened the series with a 4-3 win over the Twins.
Pierzynski, after a loud chorus of boos from the crowd, hammered an 0-2 pitch over the right-field wall against reliever Jeff Gray (5-1), breaking a 2-2 deadlock and effectively ending Minnesota’s four-game win streak.
Said manager Ron Gardenhire on Gray giving up hits to the first two men he faced, “Just bad pitches. Two bad pitches end up costing you a ballgame… He’s got good stuff. He’s been throwing the ball well, just not tonight.”
Denard Span drove a run in with a single in the bottom of the ninth, but Joe Mauer grounded out two batters later to end the game. Addison Reed recorded his 17th save for the Sox.
The main storyline of the night was Liriano pitching against the team that traded him three days prior, but his outing ended up being a bit anticlimactic. The enigmatic lefty received polite applause when his name was announced before the game and took a no-decision in his White Sox debut.
The Twins saw what they’d come to expect from Liriano: stretches of dominance, lots of strikeouts, a high pitch-count, and struggles with men on base.
“Frankie did his thing,” said Gardenhire. “He threw the ball well. He got in the same situations he gets in with us. He just worked his way out of them.”
“He battled for them; that’s exactly what they’re going to get out of him. They’re going to get battles.”
Liriano breezed through five innings before fizzling in the sixth, walking two, allowing two hits, and giving up two runs. But as far as Liriano meltdowns go, the lefty kept it to a minimum. He escaped the sixth inning with his team down by just one run, leaving the bases full of Twins.
For the first five innings, Liriano baffled his former team. He struck out seven and only allowed two Denard Span singles.
Said Gardenhire on Liriano, “Our hitters were coming back in saying he was nasty. We’d played behind them, but facing him our hitters were saying he threw some balls that were disappearing tonight.”
It was a Darin Mastroianni infield dribbler that got the wheels turning in the sixth inning with the Twins down 1-0. Mastroianni followed up his one-out infield single by stealing second and third base on consecutive pitches, putting the tying run 90 feet away.
Liriano went on to walk the next two hitters, loading the bases for Justin Morneau. Morneau bounced one right to Paul Konerko at first base, but the veteran failed to record an out, strangely stepping over first base and electing to try and get the out at home. His throw sailed wide of Pierzynski as Mastroianni slid in to tie the game.
With the bases still loaded, Danny Valencia put the Twins momentarily in front with a hard groundball to the left side of the infield. Shortstop Alexei Ramirez made a diving stop, but had no play as the Twins took a 2-1 lead.
Chicago tied the game at two in the top of the seventh on an Alexei Ramirez two-out RBI single. But it didn’t change the fact that Nick Blackburn pitched as well as he had in a long time. The sinker-baller threw eight innings and gave relief to a bullpen that threw four innings the night before.
“It’s the best I’ve felt in a long time,” said Blackburn. “I was finally out there relaxing a little bit and letting the ball move around.”
“I just had the sinker going and didn’t really have to use too many other pitches. We had them guessing a lot for the night.”
Blackburn left in a tie game and ceded to Gray who wound up taking his first loss of the season.
The rubber-match takes place Wednesday at 12:10 from Target Field. It looks to be a good pitching match-up as Jake Peavy (8-7, 3.15) toes the mound against Scott Diamond (9-4, 2.88), coming off a complete-game shutout.
NOTES: Ben Revere extended his hitting streak to 14 games with a pinch-hit single in the ninth inning… The Twins did not make any trades at the 3:00 PM trade deadline on Tuesday, which came as a big relief to Denard Span: “I’m ready to go home and relax. It’s been a long 48 hours for me.”