Better than the no-hitter: Frankie at his finest

  • Article by: TWINS INSIDER JOE CHRISTENSEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 13, 2011 - 8:38 AM

Francisco Liriano didn't get a no-hitter like he did on May 3, but his performance Sunday was better.

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Francisco Liriano was flooded with interview requests, phone calls and text messages after his May 3 no-hitter against the White Sox.

Sunday's performance won't receive near the attention, but he was better, no matter what history says.

Liriano's bid for a perfect game ended in the seventh inning. His no-hit and shutout bids ended in the eighth. But after the Twins defeated Texas 6-1 at Target Field, the praise for Liriano was overflowing.

"I haven't seen Frankie pitch like that in a long time, even in that no-hitter," said Michael Cuddyer, who hit a three-run homer in the seventh. "He was more erratic that night. His stuff got him a no-hitter. Today was like Frankie of '06."

The Twins, who have won nine of their past 11 games, don't use those words lightly because Liriano was baseball's most dominant pitcher in 2006 before getting derailed by an elbow injury. Until Sunday, few even would have compared him to the Frankie of 2010, who went 14-10 with a 3.62 ERA.

The Rangers saw something better.

Liriano needed only 64 pitches to get through the first six innings, as he racked up seven strikeouts. Texas didn't have its first baserunner until Elvis Andrus reached on third baseman Luke Hughes' error with one out in the seventh.

"I was disappointed to ruin the perfect game by booting the ball," Hughes said. "But Frankie got me out of that jam. It was so much fun to watch him go to work again."

Liriano had to wait nearly 30 minutes between his final pitch of the seventh inning and first pitch in the eighth, as the Twins stretched their lead from 1-0 to 6-1. That included the seven-minute delay when the Rangers changed pitchers after Matt Harrison took Danny Valencia's liner off his left triceps.

"It's almost like a rain delay there, when you're at [73] pitches and sit out for 30 minutes," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "We were really worried when he went back out there. His first few warmup pitches weren't pretty."

Liriano fell behind Adrian Beltre 3-1 before grooving a 91-miles-per-hour fastball, and Beltre lined a single to center.

"[The break] didn't bother me physically," Liriano said. "Mentally, I think I was thinking too much about a no-hitter, trying to overthrow, trying to be too perfect on the corners, which got me behind in the count."

Yorvit Torrealba's RBI single trimmed the Twins' lead to 6-1, but Liriano finished the inning then walked off the field to another ovation, raising his glove toward the sellout crowd of 39,281.

In his no-hitter, he had six walks, two strikeouts and threw only 66 of his 123 pitches (54 percent) for strikes. On Sunday, he had no walks, nine strikeouts and threw 64 of his 97 pitches (66 percent) for strikes.

"He was in more control of the game here than he was [in Chicago]," Gardenhire said. "This was definitely one of those games you could see he had no-hitter stuff, and he had no-hitter, in-the-strike-zone stuff, not missing all over the place."

Pitching coach Rick Anderson agreed, saying Liriano's recent stint on the disabled list added strength and flexibility to his left shoulder.

"Everything feels great now," Liriano said. "My arm feels way better. My mechanics, everything."

Liriano would have become the first pitcher to throw two no-hitters during the same regular season since Nolan Ryan in 1973. Roy Halladay threw two no-hitters last year, but one came in the postseason.

After all this, Liriano is only 4-6 with a 4.67 ERA. But this performance offered another peak at his ceiling, which remains very high, indeed.

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  • Francisco Liriano

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    Up next: Three-game series vs. Chicago White Sox at Target Field • Game 1: 7:10 p.m. Tuesday • TV: FSN (1500ESPN)

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