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The first step

Posted by: Nick Nelson Updated: May 3, 2011 - 11:51 PM
 

What I'll remember was the smile.

The Twins haven't had much cause for smiling this year. Between the offensive incompetence, the pitching struggles, the constant fielding gaffes, the strange ailments, and the mounting losses, it's been a dire scene.

Francisco Liriano has had more to frown about than most. He had his name bandied about in trade rumors during an offseason in which he failed to come away with a long-term deal, and from the very onset of spring training he's run into nothing but trouble on the mound.

So when Liriano was mobbed by celebrating teammates after putting the finishing touches on last night's no-hitter, it was the grin on his face that really hit home. I've been one of the left-hander's biggest proponents, harshly criticizing the front office for failing to reach an extension with him over the winter, so I've been as upset -- and dumbfounded -- by his early struggles as anyone. To see him, and the team, finally experience a good break was heartwarming.

It wouldn't have been a stretch to say that Liriano was among the most unlikely pitchers in all the majors to deliver a no-no. In 204 professional starts between the majors and minors, he'd never before thrown a complete game. He had failed to record more than 15 outs in four of his five starts this year. His 9.13 ERA ranked as the second-worst in the majors. He'd battled severe command issues all season, and that continued into last night's outing as he issued six walks and threw only 66 of his 123 pitches for strikes.

To be sure, last night's momentous achievement did not signal a turnaround in the southpaw's troubling performance. He might have a badly slumping White Sox offense to thank as much as anything he did himself.

But he can also thank his teammates, and that's the biggest takeaway for this scuffling Twins club. Jason Kubel gave Liriano a lead to protect with a solo home run in the fourth. Danny Valencia made a spectacular stab-and-throw on a grounder down the line in the seventh. Justin Morneau made a great scoop on a throw in the dirt from Matt Tolbert in the ninth -- Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports tweeted that it was the first time this year Morneau has successfully executed a scoop. It was also perhaps the first time that we've truly seen this team come together.

A dreadful start to the season has had just about everyone in the clubhouse on edge. Last night, Liriano and the Twins finally got to smile. Remembering how to do that could be the first step toward getting things turned around.

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