Liriano struggles in 6th, and Twins lose opener

Francisco Liriano didn’t just hit the wall in the sixth inning,

he slammed into it. Then the Minnesota Twins went tumbling to a

series-opening loss to their October nemesis.

Liriano frittered away his five shutout innings by falling

behind in the count and giving up big hits to Mark Teixeira and

Curtis Granderson, and Teixeira’s two-run homer off reliever Jesse

Crain in the seventh spurred the New York Yankees to a 6-4 victory

over the Twins in Game 1 of their division series on Wednesday

night.

This was no ambush by the Yankees. It was simply another

confident comeback against the team that can’t seem to beat them

when it counts, as the Twins dropped their seventh straight

postseason game to the pinstriped powerhouse.

”We’re trying to stay focused,” Liriano said, ”and not think

like that.”

Overall, they are 2-10 against the Yankees, including

first-round losses in 2003, 2004 and 2009. In last year’s sweep,

the Yankees trailed in each of their three victories – just like

this night.

”Very disappointing, you know, especially when we’re playing at

home,” Liriano said.

This one really hurt in a game when Liriano and the Twins were

on their way to beating Yankees ace C.C. Sabathia, with the rest of

the rotation struggling behind him.

”The ball was darting and diving and the breaking ball was

good,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. ”He just ran into a

tough inning and couldn’t get a third out.”

Liriano finally showed the Twins – and the rest of baseball –

this season he could over come that Tommy John surgery by pitching

a career-high 191 2-3 innings and winning 14 games. The road back

from the ligament replacement procedure in his elbow has been a

long one, since that stellar 2006 rookie season was cut short when

his arm started feeling funny from all those whipsaw pitches.

Considering the seriousness of the injury he came back from, and

the leaps he made this summer from that laborious 2009 season, the

Twins could hardly ask for more from the Dominican lefty.

His downfall is often a lack of concentration. He’s acknowledged

more than once that he has trouble staying focused during critical

situations with runners on base, blaming some of his bad innings on

that.

Liriano needed 57 pitches to get through three innings, perhaps

a harbinger for the fateful sixth.

He had that trusty slider spinning early, getting everybody but

Teixeira and Robinson Cano to swing and miss at strike three once.

After walking Brett Gardner and giving up a single to Derek Jeter

to start the third, Liriano settled in and retired 10 straight. He

needed only nine pitches to finish the fourth and appeared in

command until Teixeira tagged a one-out pitch in the sixth for a

double.

”He was filthy the first five innings. He didn’t miss many

pitches. He was throwing everything all over the place,” Teixeira

said. ”He left a couple pitches up in the sixth, and we just hit

his mistakes.”

All of a sudden, after rebounding from a rocket single by Cano

that ruined the shutout by striking out Marcus Thames, Liriano was

clinging to a one-run lead thanks to a sharp single by Jorge

Posada.

Then came a soaring drive by Granderson that glanced off the

out-of-town scoreboard in right-center for a two-run triple to make

it 4-3. The fans were instantly hushed, quickly deflated after

experiencing so many agonizing defeats at the hands of those

Yankees.

”I thought it was a routine fly ball,” Liriano said.

He said he was confident in his first career postseason start.

Just a few rushed deliveries and a few missed spots, and he was in

trouble he wasn’t able to escape.

”I think I was overdoing it that inning,” Liriano said.

His teammates weren’t about to blame him.

”They hit some good pitches. I don’t think it fell apart,”

shortstop J.J. Hardy said. ”Those guys are good hitters. It was

their night.”