Updated: June 11th, 2010 9:23pm
Liriano sizzles, ties club record as Twins top Braves 2-1

Liriano sizzles, ties club record as Twins top Braves 2-1

by Tom Pelissero
1500ESPN.com
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MINNEAPOLIS -- In a season that has featured more than a few dominant performances by Francisco Liriano, this might have been his best yet.

The left-hander tied a club record on his way to an 11-strikeout night, and the Minnesota Twins pieced together a late rally to give Liriano a tidy 2-1 win over the Atlanta Braves on Friday at Target Field.

"He was impressive," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "The ball was diving. His fastball was nasty, his changeup was great and his slider was just -- at times, it looked like a curveball it was breaking so much."

Liriano went eight innings, allowing a run on five hits with no walks, and was as good as he's been all season while striking out seven straight hitters during a stretch spanning the third through fifth innings.

Five of the strikeouts came on sliders. Two others came on changeups. By the time David Ross ended the streak with a groundout to end the fifth, Liriano had matched the team record set by Jim Merritt did it on July 21, 1966.

"I don't pay attention to that," Liriano said. "I just try to go, get every hitter and throw first-pitch strikes."

Jon Rauch picked up where Liriano left off, striking out the side in the ninth to preserve the win for the Twins (36-25), who maintained their 4½-game lead over the Detroit Tigers in the American League Central by outdueling the National League East-leading Braves and hot right-hander Tim Hudson. 

Liriano's lone blemish came in the second, when Troy Glaus led off with a single and later scored on Omar Infante's groundout, giving the Braves an early 1-0 lead.

That's how the score stayed until the bottom of the seventh, when the Twins strung together five singles -- two of which didn't leave the infield -- against Hudson to take the lead.

Joe Mauer led off with a grounder up the middle that second baseman Martin Prado stopped but couldn't get out of his glove. Justin Morneau smashed a single past third baseman Chipper Jones, who didn't appear to see the ball, and Michael Cuddyer beat out a chopper off the plate to load the bases.

After Jim Thome struck out looking, Jason Kubel ripped a single to right field, scoring Mauer with the tying run, and then Delmon Young -- pinch hitting for Danny Valencia on a rare night off -- yanked an 0-2 slider to left to score Mauer with the go-ahead run.

"It feels great getting Liriano a win," Young said. "Seven straight Ks, (11) strikeouts -- pitchers deserve a win when they go out there and pitch like that."

After a stellar April in which he had a three-game shutout streak, Liriano struggled for much of May, going 2-3 with a 5.15 earned-run average. He's returned to form in April, allowing only two runs in 15 innings (1.20 ERA) and hitting double figures in strikeouts both times.

Asked if this was Liriano's best yet, Gardenhire said, "That ranks right up there. He really threw the ball well."

Plenty well enough to beat the Braves (35-27), who sent the heart of their lineup to the plate in the ninth and watched Jason Heyward, Jones and Troy Glaus go down swinging as Rauch earned his 16th save in 18 chances.

The Braves will send sinkerballer Derek Lowe (8-5, 5.04 ERA) to the mound against fellow right-hander Nick Blackburn (6-3, 5.21) on Saturday.

Tom Pelissero is Senior Editor and columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He hosts from 6 to 8 p.m. weeknights and co-hosts from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
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