A.J. Pierzynski's bat, Francisco Liriano's arm team up to beat Twins
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Catcher A.J. Pierzynski helped guide Francisco Liriano to a solid start, then he provided the decisive home run in the top of the ninth inning as the Chicago White Sox beat the Minnesota Twins 4-3 on Tuesday night.
The pre-game hype for Tuesday night's game revolved around Liriano making his first start in a White Sox uniform at Target Field.
But as it turned out, it was another former Twin who stole the spotlight.
Pierzynski's two-run bomb off right-hander Jeff Gray in the top of the ninth inning gave the White Sox a two-run lead they wouldn't relinquish.
The home run was Pierzynski's second of the series and eighth career against his former mates.
For Liriano, it wasn't the Frankie meltdown many people might have expected in his first start at Target Field as a member of the White Sox.
More like classic Frankie followed by a near-death by papercuts.
Liriano held the Twins scoreless through five innings, but he stumbled slightly as he approached the 100-pitch mark in the sixth. With the Twins trailing 1-0, Darin Mastroianni reached on an infield single with one out, then stole second and third on back-to-back pitches. Liriano then walked Joe Mauer and Josh Willingham to fill the bases.
White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper came out for a visit with Liriano at 103 pitches, but he and manager Robin Ventura elected to leave the left-hander in the game.
Morneau hit a groundball to first baseman Paul Konerko, who came up firing to home plate -- without touching first base -- but his throw sailed past catcher A.J. Pierzynski allowing Mastroianni to score the tying run.
The ball bounced off the back of the White Sox dugout and immediately back into the playing field, but umpires missed this detail. Had they ruled correctly, all runners would have been awarded an extra base, and the Twins would have taken a 2-1 lead.
Two batters later, Danny Valencia reached on an infield single that drove home Mauer from third. Shortstop Alexei Ramirez made a diving stop to his right, but he was unable to get a grip on the ball in time to make a play.
Liriano, on his 113th pitch, eventually got Brian Dozier on a fly out to deep left field to end the inning.
Liriano was charged with two earned runs on four hits and four walks while striking out eight in six innings. He struck out Mauer swinging to end the first inning, and he also got Mauer looking -- albeit, on a pitch that was clearly off the plate inside -- to end the third inning, stranding runners in scoring position.
"I know Rick Anderson, I've known him for a long time, Gardy and those guys, they're really good at their job," Pierzynski said. "I just think the bottom line is that he has to throw it over the plate. If he does he's really good. I know facing him, the games he throws it over the plate, especially as a left-handed hitter, you feel like you're helpless up there because his stuff is that good."
Liriano essentially picked up where he left off prior to his clunker of a start in Chicago last week.
"I was kind of nervous," Liriano said. "I was probably trying to overthrow the first two innings. I tried to calm myself down and tried to do my job. I'm trying to be a part of the team and trying to enjoy myself. ...
"It was fun. I think we (Pierzynski) were on the same page today. First game, so I think everything worked out pretty good tonight. We've just got to keep talking the next couple days."
Nick Blackburn, in his longest outing of the season by far, mostly matched Liriano zero for zero. The right-hander allowed only two earned runs on five hits and a walk while striking out two in eight innings. The runs came on a sacrifice fly by Dayan Viciedo in the second inning and an RBI single by Ramirez in the seventh.
Span drove home Ben Revere with an RBI single off Chicago closer Addison Reed in the bottom of the ninth, cutting the lead to 4-3.
Former Twin Jesse Crain pitched himself into a jam in the seventh inning, but got out of it unscathed.
Liriano was traded from the San Francisco Giants to the Twins on Nov. 14, 2003 for his new battery mate, Pierzynski. The Twins also received Boof Bonser and Joe Nathan in the deal.
"I know it's fun to see someone else try to hit that slider besides me for all these years," Pierzynski said. "(Catching him) is something I never thought I would do. We were traded for each other way back in the day, but to be on the same team and actually catch him, it's cool, because I know the talent he has. I've heard nothing but great things about him."
Ron Gardenhire used Gray in the ninth inning because many of his other options were unavailable.
"(Alex) Burnett and (Jared) Burton not available," the manager said. "(Glen) Perkins was save only. If we pitched him any other way tonight he's not available for tomorrow. Burton is probably not available for tomorrow. Other people have to get outs out there. Gray hadn't pitched in a few days. He needed to pitch. He's got good stuff. He's been throwing the ball well. He just didn't have it tonight."
On Konerko's errant throw in the bottom of the sixth inning, the ball actually bounced off the back of the White Sox dugout and immediately back into the playing field, but umpires missed this detail.
Had they ruled correctly, all runners would have been awarded an extra base, and the Twins would have scored an extra run.
"No one had any clue where that ball hit," Gardenhire said. "I can tell you that right now. They didn't know. I was guessing. I thought it hit the netting or in the camera well. It looked like it hit the concrete ledge in front of the camera well and ricocheted.
"Really no one had any clue what happened with that ball. That's what I was out there trying to figure out. I thought it hit off the net, which is a safety net. The poles are in play, but the net is supposed to be dead. They had no clue. No one could see what happened."
18: Home runs for Pierzynski this season.
4: Hits for Span, who raised his batting average to .297.
11: Stolen bases for Mastroianni.
58: Liriano's jersey number.
10-6-2010: The last time Liriano and Crain appeared in a game together -- for the Twins against the Yankees in the ALDS.
3B Trevor Plouffe (bruised thumb) is eligible to come off the disabled list on Aug. 5, and as of Tuesday his status remains day-to-day as far as when he'll start swinging again. Plouffe did not undergo an MRI, nor did he receive a cortisone shot. Trainers believe he will be back in the lineup soon.
"(Liriano) apologized to me for being wild. I was like, 'Dude, you're fine. You were great. Don't apologize to me.' I thought he threw the ball great.'"
Wednesday: vs. White Sox, 12:10 p.m. LHP Scott Diamond (9-4, 2.88) vs. RHP Jake Peavy (8-7, 3.15).