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Must C Classic: Lirano hurls no-hitter

CHICAGO -- It was easily one of the more unlikely no-hitters in recent memory.

After all, Francisco Liriano had never even thrown a complete game -- let alone a shutout -- in his professional career, dating back to his days in the Minors.

And he entered Tuesday's outing against the White Sox with an unsightly 9.13 ERA through five starts, a number that caused the Twins to wonder about both his health and his spot in the rotation.

He also didn't exactly have his best stuff on this chilly night, as he walked six and struck out just two.

But through it all, he defied the odds and snapped his club's six-game losing streak in grand fashion by tossing the fifth no-hitter in Minnesota Twins history and the seventh in franchise history (the other two came when the club was known as the Washington Senators) in a 1-0 win over the White Sox.

It was the first no-hitter for the Twins since Sept. 11, 1999, when Eric Milton tossed one against the Angels at the Metrodome. The other three since the Twins moved to Minneapolis: Scott Erickson threw one against the Brewers on April 27, 1994; Dean Chance tossed one against the Indians on Aug. 25, 1967; and Jack Kralick had one on Aug. 26, 1962, against the Kansas City Athletics.

Twins no-nos
Pitcher Opp. Date Score
Jack Kralick KC 8/26/1962 1-0
Dean Chance CLE 8/25/1967 2-1
Scott Erickson MIL 4/27/1994 6-0
Eric Milton ANA 9/11/1999 7-0
Francisco Liriano CWS 5/3/2011 1-0
"I'm pretty excited," Liriano said about his history-making performance. "I can't explain myself right now. I'm very happy, very excited. I had a rough start to the season, so it's very exciting."

He didn't completely let that excitement shine through, his easygoing demeanor evident while he was on the mound and during the postgame interviews. He barely cracked a smile even after getting Adam Dunn to line out to shortstop Matt Tolbert for the final out of the game, his teammates running out to embrace him and celebrate his achievement.

Denard Span, who watched the nine hitless frames from center field, said it was just Frankie being Frankie, with the stoic left-hander reacting the only way he knows how.

"He didn't say much," Span said. "I think he was speechless. I don't think it really set in, what he had done, right after the game. You could tell ... I wouldn't say he wanted to cry, but you could just tell he was emotional, and you could tell he left everything out there tonight."

So while Liriano downplayed his huge performance and the ensuing celebration, manager Ron Gardenhire couldn't help but be proud of both his pitcher and his club for bouncing back in such a big way.

"How about all those guys running out there at the end?" Gardenhire said. "I'd pay money to sit in the stands and watch that. That's good stuff.

"I think that's the greatest thing in the world, watching them all out there jumping on Frankie, because they were all probably happier than he was. He's happy, but the players were probably happier, because they like being a part of that. That's pretty cool."

Liriano's performance was especially important considering the Twins' struggles, as they'd begun the game with the worst record in the American League and had lost six in a row after being swept by the Rays and Royals.

Liriano, though, was able to pick up the club and carry it on his back, even though he's certainly looked more dominant in other outings based on strikeout and walks totals. But this time was much different, as he simply held the White Sox hitless for the first time at U.S. Cellular Field and the 13th time in their franchise history.

Liriano, game-by-game
Date Vs. IP H R/ER BB/K W/L
4/2 @TOR 4.1 4 4/4 5/3 L
4/7 @NYY 5 4 4/4 3/5 L
4/13 KC 5 8 7/7 1/4 L
4/18 @BAL 6.1 5 2/2 5/2 W
4/27 TB 3 6 7/7 4/4 L
5/3 @CWS 9 0 0/0 6/2 W

"I've probably seen him with better stuff, but obviously not with the results," pitching coach Rick Anderson said. "He was effectively wild. I guess that's what you call it. So yeah, he's had better stuff, but today he kept pounding it in there and made some big pitches when he needed to, and our defense played great for him."

Few no-hitters can be completed without great defensive plays, and Tuesday night's was no exception.

It started with an impressive running catch in left-center by Span to rob Carlos Quentin of a hit with two runners on in the fourth inning.

But no one had fully realized that Liriano hadn't given up a hit, as he'd already walked four hitters, and the Twins had only a one-run lead thanks to a home run by Jason Kubel, hit off White Sox right-hander Edwin Jackson in the fourth inning.

But the big play came in the seventh, when Quentin was again robbed, this time by third baseman Danny Valencia. Valencia made a great play on a ball hit just inside third base and made the long throw from the foul line to secure the third out of the inning.

By then the Twins knew there was a no-hitter in progress, and that pivotal moment kept it alive.

"I kind of knew what was going on, obviously," Valencia said. "There's a ball hit down the line, [I wasn't sure if it was] going to be fair or foul, so I went back on it. It took a bad hop, I got it in my glove, and I'm going, 'Oh no, I've got to make the throw.' Luckily, I got enough behind it to get it there."

Fortune also smiled upon Liriano in the form of a controversial double play to end the eighth inning. Replays showed that first baseman Justin Morneau missed the tag on Gordon Beckham, but first-base umpire Paul Emmel called him out.

"It is what it is," Beckham said of the play. "I was upset because that extends the inning and maybe gives someone else a shot."

Liriano also was the beneficiary of a nice play in the final inning, with Morneau scooping a bounced throw from Tolbert for the first out before Tolbert caught the final out on a hard liner from Adam Dunn to seal the no-no with Juan Pierre at first base after a walk.

It ended a whole lot of nervousness from the Twins, especially from Gardenhire, who admitted he was probably more worried than Liriano.

"Oh, I almost threw up, I'm telling you," Gardenhire said. "In the top of the ninth, I had to run up and grab a bottle of water because I had nothing in my throat. It's like in 'Jaws,' I couldn't spit. I had to get a bottle of water and suck it down. I wanted it for him so bad."

But Liriano got it done, and in the process recorded the fewest strikeouts in a no-hitter since June 27, 1980, when the Dodgers' Jerry Reuss no-hit the Giants and struck out two. And Liriano also became just the fifth pitcher in the last 30 years to throw a no-hitter that included more walks than strikeouts.

In addition, he carried the second-highest ERA (minimum three starts) into the outing of any pitcher to go on to throw a no-hitter, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

But the outcome didn't surprise White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen.

"He's always good," Guillen said. "Maybe one of the best in the American League. He's just struggling right now -- not against us -- but his ERA was pretty high before, and it was rough for him to get past the fifth inning. But today was good."

Now the Twins are hoping that Tuesday's victory will help Liriano get back on track, while also serving as a rallying point.

"I'm excited as can be about the no-hitter, but I'm even more excited the confidence is there," Anderson said. "I can't wait for the next start. And that's what he needed -- confidence. Hopefully, this is a confidence thing, and it's something we all need to get our strut and our swagger back. I think we all needed that. And that's a big step."

And that step couldn't have been possible without that one unlikely -- but impressive -- night from Liriano.

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