Francisco Liriano was running low on energy in the ninth inning. A no-hitter within reach but his pitch count climbing, he relied on teammates to help him complete the best game of his career.
When shortstop Matt Tolbert grabbed Adam Dunn’s liner for the final out, completing the Minnesota Twins’ 1-0 win over the Chicago White Sox, Liriano was mobbed on the mound.
”To be honest I was running out of gas,” he said. ”I just thank my teammates that they made some great plays behind me tonight.”
Liriano (2-4) walked six and struck out two in his first complete game in 95 major league starts. The 27-year-old left-hander, who reached the big leagues in 2005, matched his career high with 123 pitches.
”I can’t explain it. I feel so nervous and so happy right now,” Liriano said. ”I can’t explain my feeling right now.”
He survived a rocky ninth inning that began when Brent Morel grounded to shortstop and Matt Tolbert made a one-hop throw that first baseman Justin Morneau scooped. Juan Pierre walked and Alexei Ramirez popped to shortstop.
Liriano fell behind Adam Dunn 3-0 in the count, then got a pair of strikes. After a foul ball, Dunn lined out to Tolbert.
”I thought it was a base hit,” Liriano said. ”When I saw him catch it I was so excited.”
Dunn dropped to 0 for 16 against left-handers this season.
”As soon as I hit it, I saw him, and it was right to him,” Dunn said. ”That’s pretty much the story of the day. There were some balls that, again, they made some great defensive plays.”
Liriano, the reigning AL comeback player of the year, was backed by Jason Kubel’s fourth-inning homer. He threw just 66 pitches for strikes but kept Chicago off-balance in a game that took just 2 hours, 9 minutes.
In his previous start, he lasted just three innings in an 8-2 loss to Tampa Bay. The shutout lowered his ERA for the season from 9.13 to 6.61.
Liriano, 3-0 against the White Sox last season, walked Pierre leading off the first and Carlos Quentin with one out in the second, but both were erased on double plays. Chicago put two on in the fourth, and center fielder Denard Span raced into left-center to grab Quentin’s long drive.
With two outs in the seventh, third baseman Danny Valencia went behind the bag and into foul territory to grab Quentin’s hard hopper and then made a strong throw to first.
Minnesota turned its third double play in the eighth, when Morneau took an offline throw from second baseman Alexi Casilla and umpire Paul Emmel called Gordon Beckham out – replays appeared to show Morneau missed the tag.
Ramirez hit two of the hardest balls off Liriano. He lined out to third in the first and sent a hard liner foul past third in the sixth.
Edwin Jackson (2-4) lost his fourth straight start despite allowing six hits in eight innings. Then with Arizona, Jackson no-hit Tampa Bay last June 26 despite walking eight.
It was the seventh no-hitter for the Twins-Washington Senators franchise and the first since Eric Milton’s against the Angels on Sept. 11, 1999. It was the first no-hitter in the major leagues since Philadelphia’s Roy Halladay’s against Cincinnati in last year’s NL division series.
The White Sox were no-hit for the 13th time, the first since they were beaten by Kansas City’s Bret Saberhagen on Aug. 26, 1991.
Liriano was acquired in 2003 in the famously lopsided trade that also brought Joe Nathan to Minnesota in exchange for A.J. Pierzynski.
He burst onto the scene in 2006, going 12-3 with a 2.16 ERA and dominating overmatched hitters with an untouchable slider. But the violent delivery caused him to develop arm problems toward the end of that season and had elbow-ligament replacement surgery that November.
His road back has been a long and difficult one. He missed all of 2007, then struggled to regain his form over the next two years, leading some to wonder if he ever would make it all the way back after going 5-13 with a 5.80 ERA in 2009.
NOTES: The Twins moved Casilla, who had four errors in 21 games at shortstop, to second base. … Twins DH Jim Thome was a late scratch. Seven players with batting averages under .200 started the game – four for the Twins and three for the White Sox.