The members of the Minnesota sporting public who remain nostalgic for excitement from the local ballclub had to feel a cringe of sadness in watching Francisco Liriano stumble through five outs in a start for Detroit on Thursday at Target Field.
Liriano will turn 35 in October, his face and body look older, and he remains in the Tigers rotation because Mike Fiers was traded and starters are on the disabled list. He won three games in April and hasn’t won in 15 starts since then.
When Liriano appears on a TV screen, for Pittsburgh, Detroit or another club, there’s the thought that if his elbow doesn’t go, that 2006 club — Morneau (MVP), Mauer (batting champ), Santana (Cy Young), Nathan (1.58 ERA), Hunter, Cuddyer, the Little Piranhas — could have won it.
And for that reason, the midsummer injury to the 22-year-old stands near the top of most ill-timed injuries in Twins history.
Liriano had pitched 12 times out of the bullpen (3.22 ERA, 32 strikeouts in 22⅓ innings) before manager Ron Gardenhire put him in the starting rotation on May 19 in Milwaukee.
Johan Santana was already the best starter in the AL — and by midsummer, his main competition was Liriano. La Velle Neal and I were talking about Francisco the Kid on Thursday and our senior baseball writer said:
“Mid-90s, wipeout slider for the ages, and a changeup almost as good as Johan’s. That was an amazing 1-2.’’
In a year of steroids-fueled hitting throughout baseball, Liriano made 14 starts from May 19 through July 28, with a 1.65 ERA, 105 strikeouts in 92⅔ innings and a .162 batting average against.
The Twins gave Liriano a few extra days before an Aug. 7 start, he was knocked around in four innings and then admitted to elbow pain. He was shut down, returned on Sept. 23 before a raucous, hopeful crowd, and when he had to leave after two poor innings, a funereal mood filled the Metrodome.
Liriano had Tommy John surgery in November, was the AL’s Comeback Player of the Year for the Twins in 2010, and the NL’s for Pittsburgh in 2013, but that Francisco from the 14-start run in 2006 … baseball never saw that Francisco again.
Here and there:
• Jack Morris on Liriano in July 2006: “If I were the Twins, I wouldn’t trade him for anybody in baseball. That’s how important I think he is to this organization.’’
• Interesting blast from Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve last week — “Diamond [DeShields] just destroyed Maya Moore’’ — since we all understand Moore’s the superstar who made Reeve’s career.
• I joined America in spending two days listening to Aretha songs and here’s a new favorite: the Queen covering “The Weight,’’ with Duane Allman on the slide guitar.