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Twins Cut AL Central Deficit To Nine With 6-1 Win Over Rangers

On Sunday afternoon, Francisco Liriano flashed some of the brilliance that Twins fans had become accustomed to prior to his Tommy John surgery. The mercurial left-hander took a no-hitter into the eighth inning, and was perfect through six as the Minnesota Twins took their third game out of a four-game set with the Texas Rangers by a score of 6-1 at Target Field.

The Twins got an early lead in this one against Rangers' starter Matt Harrison, as Luke Hughes came through with a two-out single to score Ben Revere in the bottom of the first to stake Liriano to a 1-0 lead.

And, really, that was basically all of the offensive action for the first six innings of this one. The Rangers kept sending guys to the plate, and Liriano kept setting them down. He retired the first eighteen Texas Rangers he faced in order, and he got some help defensively to get there. In the top of the second, Rangers' third baseman Adrian Beltre lifted a fly ball down the right field line that Jason Repko made a brilliant diving catch on for the second out. In the top of the fourth, Ian Kinsler led off the inning with a smash to the left side of the infield, but Hughes made a diving stop and gunned Kinsler down at first.

In the top of the seventh, Liriano retired Kinsler for the first out, and shortstop Elvis Andrus bounced one to Hughes at third. Hughes attempted to backhand the ball, but it bounced off of his glove and into foul territory. The play was scored an error, preserving the no-hit bid, and Andrus wound up at second base, where he was stranded after Liriano retired Josh Hamilton and Michael Young.

The Twins blew things open offensively in the bottom of the seventh inning. Danny Valencia led off the inning with a line drive that glanced off of Harrison's arm, reaching on the infield single and knocking Harrison out of the game. Reliever Mark Lowe came into the game and got Repko to ground out to shortstop for the first out, but in the next at-bat, Andrus threw wildly to first on Rene Rivera's ground ball. The E-6 left Rivera at first and allowed Valencia to score, padding the Twins' lead to 2-0.

Matt Tolbert then fouled out to Beltre at third, and Lowe struck out Ben Revere to end the inning. . .at least, it would have ended the inning had the ball not gotten away from catcher Yorvit Torrealba. On the miscue, Revere hustled down to first base, and Rivera advanced to second, allowing an inning that should have been over to continue.

The Twins took full advantage of the extra out they were given, as Alexi Casilla continued his hot hitting with a single to left field to score Rivera, giving the Twins a 3-0 lead and keeping runners at first and second. The next batter, Michael Cuddyer, launched an offering from Lowe over the wall in left field for a three-run homer, his ninth of the season, to increase Minnesota's lead to 6-0. The Twins had an opportunity to add more, as Delmon Young and Luke Hughes chased Lowe with consecutive singles, but Yoshinori Tateyama got Valencia, who led off the inning, to fly out to center for the third out.

Through all of this, Liriano sat in the dugout. . .and waited. . .and waited. Between the injury to Harrison, the Twins' offense blowing up, and the singing of God Bless America between innings, Liriano went nearly half an hour between pitches. He faced Adrian Beltre to lead off the top of the eighth, immediately got behind 3-0, and after a "get me over" fastball for a strike, Beltre lined a solid single to center field to end Liriano's bid for a second no-hitter this season. After a wild pitch allowed Beltre to move to second and a strikeout of Nelson Cruz, Torrealba singled to center and score Beltre, making the score 6-1 and ending the shutout bid for Liriano as well.

Despite only throwing 97 pitches on the afternoon, Liriano did not come out for the ninth inning, being lifted by manager Ron Gardenhire for Alex Burnett. Burnett pitched a 1-2-3 top of the ninth, and the Twins came away with their ninth victory in the last eleven games.

Liriano's start was impressive, regardless of how you slice it. In eight innings of work, he allowed just the two hits and one run while striking out nine and, shockingly. . .this season, anyway. . .not walking a single hitter. The victory raises Liriano's record on the 2011 season to 4-6, and his ERA has dropped to 4.67.  Harrison took the loss for the Rangers after allowing five hits and two runs (one earned) in six innings of work. His record on the season is now 5-6.

On Monday, the Twins will get their first day off since May 26, as they prepare to host a three-game set against the Chicago White Sox at Target Field. That series will kick off on Tuesday, June 14, with first pitch from Target Field scheduled for 7:10 PM Central. The tentative pitching match-up currently features Carl Pavano (3-5, 4.54 ERA) for the Twins squaring off against Gavin Floyd (6-5, 3.89 ERA) for the White Sox.

Photographs by Micah Taylor, clairity, and Fibonacci Blue used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.