On a night full of swings and misses, Francisco Liriano's night was defined by one of the few times an Athletics hitter made contact against him.
The Twins lefthander watched his defense let him down in the fourth inning, then he added to the mess by walking the bases loaded. One bad changeup later, Jonny Gomes hit a grand slam and Oakland was on its way to a 6-3 victory at Target Field.
It soured a night during which Liriano, for the most part, was untouchable. With scouts from the Mets and Yankees in attendance, Liriano pitched a season-high eight innings while striking out 15 batters, tying Bert Blyleven, Jerry Koosman, Camilo Pascual and Joe Decker for the second most in team history. Johan Santana set the record of 17 on Aug. 19, 2007, against Texas.
"I tip my hat to him," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said of Liriano. "Son of a gun, that was fun to watch."
"Looked pretty good from the outfield," Twins outfielder Josh Willingham said. "He had swing-and-miss stuff."
"He had everything," catcher Drew Butera said. "I wouldn't narrow anything down."
Unfortunately for Liriano, he dropped to 3-8. A's righthander A.J. Griffin, whose father, Tim, is from Grand Rapids, Minn., got his first major league victory.
The first time through the batting order, Liriano racked up seven strikeouts. He hit double digits by the fifth inning. He reached a career-high 14 strikeouts through seven innings. In eight innings, he gave up three earned runs, four hits and a walk to go with all those strikeouts.
It was a side of Liriano rarely seen since 2006, when he tore up the league before tearing an elbow ligament and missing all of 2007.
"Everything was working," Liriano said. "Everything was down. I was throwing the ball down and they were swinging a lot, too."
Liriano struck out the side in the third and was on a roll. But things got hairy in the fourth.
Jemile Weeks reached first when his grounder deflected off Liriano's left foot. Josh Reddick struck out, but Yoenis Cespedes reached when his routine fly ball popped out of Denard Span's glove for an error.
Liriano then walked Chris Carter after getting ahead of him 0-2, and Gomes blasted the first pitch he saw into the seats in left for his third career grand slam. Oakland took a 4-1 lead and never trailed again.
"An interesting situation, with a guy like that pounding the strike zone," Gomes said. "You can't give in, so you've got to swing and hope for a strike.
"Not like my first at-bat. My first AB, three swings, three strikes. My second AB, one swing, home run. You've just got to be aggressive."
All three Twins runs were supplied by Willingham, who hit a solo home run in the second and a two-run shot in the fourth, giving him 21 for the season. The Twins' best threat after that came in the eighth with runners on second and third and two out. Trevor Plouffe, at the end of an eight-pitch at-bat against Grant Balfour, lined out to second to end the inning.
Liriano was overpowering to the end. He walked off the field to a standing ovation after pitching a 1-2-3 eighth. Of his 112 pitches, 75 were strikes.
"Phenomenal game by Frankie Liriano," Gardenhire said. "He deserved a lot better than he got. Some sloppy play by us."