Startribune.com digital sports editor Howard Sinker used to cover the Twins and now shares season tickets with friends in Section 219 of Target Field. He blogs about baseball from the perspective of a long-time fan who loves the game, doesn’t always believe the hype and likes hearing what others think. Howard sometimes talks about sports with Cathy Wurzer on MPR's Morning Edition.
So many people wanted so badly to believe that Francisco Liriano was going to be the ace of the 2011 pitching staff that his April performances were that much more maddening.
But forget the expectations and the frustration and the anger and celebrate the no-hitter that came from nowhere.
Good job, Francisco.
You needed to be that good Tuesday night because your teammates, save for Jason Kubel, were again bringing wiffle bats to the plate -- witness the 1-0 result. You got the no-hitter-required extraordinary defensive play, by Danny Valencia at the end of the seventh, when he stretched behind third base and threw out Carlos Quentin. And you got lucky in the eighth when Justin Morneau got away with the air tag on Gordon Beckham's double-play grounder.
Plus you got helped in the ninth when Morneau went all Patrick Roy and scooped up Matt Tolbert's throw from shortstop for the first out. That probably wouldn't have killed the no-hitter, though, because a good-and-prompt throw would have easily beaten Brett Morel to first. If the batter had been safe, it should have been an error on Tolbert.
But no-hitters don't usually happen without some skill from others and some luck.
You were good, Francisco. Damn good.
It doesn't matter at all that the White Sox have Minnesota-like offensive numbers -- with seven of their starters batting less than .250. Among the most impressive things I noticed was that the White Sox never were able to dig in against you. The early walks may have been a factor, but it was a bigger deal that it looked like you found good use for all three of your pitches.
The three-ball counts didn't much matter from the fifth inning on because you were in control. Remember that feeling. I suspect that the phrase el tiro para contactar is something you'll never want to hear again, but that's what you did pretty much -- striking out only two White Sox. (And keep in mind that everyone strikes out Adam Dunn.)
I'm still not 100 percent sure what pitch to contact means, but I think that's what was going on.
For all the games I covered in ball writing days and have attended as a fan, the only no-hitter I've seen in person came when I was 12. Ken Holtzman of the Cubs pitched to contact that day against Atlanta. He didn't strike out anyone in his no-hitter, which was unusual for a guy who would whiff 10 or more a few times every season. His scary moment came when Hank Aaron hit a fly ball that seemed to be right over our heads in the left-field bleachers until the wind got ahold of it and blew it back so Billy Williams could catch it. The only runs scored on a homer by Ron Santo.
One other thing I really liked about Tuesday night. When you got the final out, everyone else went goofy and you were the calmest Twins player on the field. To me, it was another indication of what you can do when your head and your talent are in harmony.
No doubt this has been a craptastic season so far. I'm guessing the weekend in Kansas City kept more than a few people from watching on Tuesday. The standings are still ugly and there were some warts that really can't be ignored. Both middle infielders had to be bailed out from botched plays and Drew Butera twice stranded runners in scoring position as his batting average dropped to .100.
A no-hitter by itself can't turn things around for the Twins. Twenty-four other players still have to do their part.
But you showed them what's possible, Francisco.
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