Reusse: Calm-looking Frankie gives Sox a reason for optimism

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 1, 2012 - 7:14 AM

Making his first start against his old team, the lefthander didn't get the victory but he did bring back memories of his old, dominant self.

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Francisco Liriano

Photo: Renee Jones Schneider, Mct

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Denard Span caught a slider and hooked it softly into right field for a single to open the bottom of the first. Two innings later, Span looped a fly ball into center field. In the sixth, Darin Mastroianni nubbed a bouncer toward first and beat it out. Later, Danny Valencia hit a ball into the shortstop hole that Alexei Ramirez fielded with a dive and couldn't make a play.

That was it. That was the substance of the Twins' hitting against Francisco Liriano, a teammate until late Saturday night, when he was traded to the Chicago White Sox.

The Twins managed only four puny singles off Frankie -- and it was only through misfortune that he didn't leave Target Field with a victory against the team for which he made all of his previous big-league appearances.

Liriano was impressive through five innings Tuesday night, requiring only one piece of assistance, and that came from plate umpire Mike Muchlinski. A walk and Span's second single had two on with two outs in the third, and Muchlinski chose to call out Joe Mauer on a 3-2 pitch that split the chalk of the lefthanded batter's box.

Gentleman Joe was as upset as he gets, stepping in front of Muchlinski to tell him he had missed the call.

Liriano put it in gear after that, not so much with his fastball but with his famous slider and underrated changeup.

Then came the sixth. The inning opened with Liriano's eighth strikeout. Mastroianni's goofy little roller followed for a hit. He stole second and third, and it had the desired effect on Frankie's psyche.

Liriano walked Mauer and Josh Willingham to load the bases. He still had the chance to continue the shutout, until first baseman Paul Konerko fielded Justin Morneau's bouncer and threw it past catcher A.J. Pierzynski to give the Twins a 1-1 tie.

With two outs, Valencia hit the ball into the shortstop hole, Ramirez couldn't make a play, and it was 2-1 for the Twins.

Liriano was done after six innings, giving up those four puny singles, walking four and striking out eight. He deserved better than being on the hook for the loss.

And his new team took care of that. The White Sox tied the game 2-2 on a Ramirez single off a strong Nick Blackburn in the seventh, and then won it 4-3 on Pierzynski's two-run wallop off Jeff Gray in the ninth.

It was a no-decision for Liriano and only good feelings in the visitors clubhouse as to how he pitched.

"He pitched great," Chicago manager Robin Ventura said. "To pitch like that against a team that he has seen for so long and knows him so well ... that was very good. He looked calm the whole night. He was just pitching."

Pierzynski said, "He was little bit excited, nervous, early in the dugout, but he made his pitches."

What was different about catching Liriano rather than facing him?

"I'm glad that somebody else has to hit that slider," A.J. said.

Liriano said it was "kind of weird" to be facing the Twins, and he was "excited," and also said, "It was another game for me."

Which means: Frankie remained as much of a contradiction with his comments after his first start for the White Sox as he was with his pitching in his previous 130 starts for the Twins.

There were those 14 starts in 2006, from mid-May until the end of July, when Liriano was a rookie and baseball's pitching sensation. He was 11-2 with a 1.65 ERA in those 14 and joined Johan Santana in carrying the Twins back from oblivion to a division title.

There was tenderness in his elbow after that 14th start, and then two more failed attempts to pitch -- once in August, once in September -- before it became clear he would require Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery.

It was always an adventure with Frankie once he returned from that arm repair. There was some adventure on Tuesday, although not really of his doing, and the White Sox had to leave the ballyard with this feeling:

They had found a starter who can help them outlast Detroit in the AL Central, and they had found him on the cheap.

Patrick Reusse can be heard noon-4 weekdays on 1500-AM. • preusse@startribune.com

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