Liriano's no-hitter a tremendous turnaround

  • Article by: JOE CHRISTENSEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 4, 2011 - 7:05 AM

Francisco Liriano, who had an awful time on the mound in April, began May with a stunning no-hitter -- the first no-hitter, shutout and complete game of his career.

CHICAGO - Francisco Liriano said it was the eighth inning Tuesday night before it started sinking in that the Chicago White Sox didn't have a hit.

To finish the no-hitter, Liriano needed to finish the whole game, something the Twins lefthander hadn't done in 204 previous professional starts between the minors and majors.

"To be honest, I was running out of gas in the ninth," Liriano said.

Manager Ron Gardenhire and pitching coach Rick Anderson wanted Liriano to make history in the worst way, but he walked six batters, and his pitch count reached 116 with one out to go.

Asked if he was sticking with Liriano all the way, Gardenhire replied: "How far is all the way? He can only load the bases and then probably something's gotta happen."

It never came to that, as Adam Dunn hit a screaming liner right at shortstop Matt Tolbert, giving the Twins a badly needed 1-0 victory at U.S. Cellular Field and giving Liriano the fifth no-hitter in Twins history.

Catcher Drew Butera ran to the mound and hugged Liriano, who offered a quick smile, as his teammates mobbed him in the infield.

"I was pretty excited," Liriano said. "I can't explain myself right now. I had a rough start to the season, so it's very exciting."

Rough is an understatement. Liriano (2-4) entered with a 9.13 ERA and might have been pitching for his job.

Before the game, Gardenhire said Kevin Slowey likely will come off the disabled list this weekend when the team is in Boston. The Twins have Slowey penciled in for a long-relief role.

"That's the plan," Gardenhire said. "But that could change in two days."

Gardenhire and called Liriano into the manager's office last Friday at Kansas City. They showed him a graphic that displayed his erratic release point.

Two days later, Anderson told Liriano just to be himself.

"My biggest job with the pitchers isn't mechanics," Anderson said. "It's keeping them mentally positive and keep them confident they can do it. It would've been easy for Frankie to get down and overthrow in a game like he has been, but he kept fighting and was confident he could do it. That's a tribute to him."

Liriano finished with 123 pitches, matching his career high. He threw 123 pitches in a seven-inning victory over Cleveland at Target Field on May 2, 2010.

"I just thank my teammates," Liriano said. "They made some great plays behind me tonight. I couldn't do it without them."

The Twins' lone run came on Jason Kubel's fourth-inning homer off Edwin Jackson (2-4), who walked eight batters and threw 149 pitches in a no-hitter for Arizona last season.

The highlight was Danny Valencia's play down the third base line to rob Carlos Quentin of a hit to end the seventh inning.

It was the Twins' first no-hitter since Eric Milton defeated the Angels 7-0 on Sept. 11, 1999.

In the Twins dugout, nobody mentioned the no-hit possibilities, at least not to Liriano.

"No one was talking," Gardenhire said. "It's all superstitious stuff. Frankie was doing his things. I think everybody probably sat in the same seats and did the same stuff between innings."

But with the Twins off to a 9-18 start and on a six-game losing streak, and with Liriano's place in the rotation teetering, the tension was palpable.

"I almost threw up," Gardenhire said. "I'm telling you. Top of the ninth, I had to run up and grab a bottle of water because I had nothing in my throat. I couldn't spit. I wanted it for him so bad, that your mouth gets so dry."

But this time, Liriano finished the job.

"It's such a nice thing to see the young man smile like that," Gardenhire said. "He lifted everybody up in this clubhouse, and we definitely needed to be lifted up. It takes a superhuman effort like that, and that's what we got tonight."

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