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Updated: June 12th, 2011 3:28pm
Twins Daily: Liriano takes no-hitter into 8th; deficit cut to 9 games

Twins Daily: Liriano takes no-hitter into 8th; deficit cut to 9 games

by Tom Pelissero
1500ESPN.com
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Francisco Liriano almost did it again. The left-hander took a perfect game into the seventh inning and a no-hitter into the eighth on Sunday, leading the Minnesota Twins to a 6-1 win over the Texas Rangers and their third consecutive series triumph as they pulled within nine games of the division lead.

The skinny

If not for Luke Hughes' error in the top of the seventh inning, Liriano would have stayed in line for the 21st perfect game in big-league history.

If not for Danny Valencia's line drive in the bottom half, Liriano might have stayed in line for his second no-hitter in a little more than two months.

The left-hander needed only 73 pitches to get through the first seven innings, continuing to roll after Hughes -- starting at third base in place of Valencia, who had a big play to keep alive Liriano's no-hitter in May 3 in Chicago -- failed to handle Elvis Andrus' bouncer near the third-base line with one out in the top of the seventh.

"I was thinking about a no-hitter between innings, but not when I was out there pitching," Liriano said. "I didn't think about a no-hitter at all, so I wasn't worried at all."

The crowd cheered when the error was posted on the scoreboard, and the Twins (26-39) took control of the game with five runs in a marathon bottom half that featured a three-run homer by Michael Cuddyer and two pitching changes, with Valencia's liner to the mound sending Rangers starter Matt Harrison to the clubhouse with a bruised left triceps.

But the nearly 30-minute delay -- which also included a slow rendition of "God Bless America" -- seemed to throw off Liriano, who opened the top of the eighth with three consecutive balls.

"I was going to get loose between innings," Liriano said. "But I got behind in the count, I was rushing I think a little bit and trying to overthrow. When you get behind in the count, you have to throw whatever they're looking for, so that's when you're going to make a mistake."

Adrian Beltre ripped a 3-1 fastball over shortstop to end the no-hit bid, Yorvit Torrealba blooped a single to score Beltre from second after a wild pitch and Liriano turned over the game to Alex Burnett for the ninth after 97 pitches (64 strikes), nine strikeouts, no walks and two standing ovations.

The Rangers (36-31) entered the day sixth in the major leagues with 312 runs this season.

"He was moving in and out, his changeup and the slider, and not overthrowing, not spinning off the ball too awful bad, and it was fun to watch," manager Ron Gardenhire said of Liriano. "That's a good bunch of hitters over there, and anytime you can make them swing and miss like he did, that's pretty damn good."

The result was the same for the Twins, who took three of four from the American League West front-runners and have won nine of their past 11 while the Cleveland Indians (34-29) have dropped nine of 10.

"We can't have the mentality of going in there saying we're chasing guys," Cuddyer said. "We have to go out there and worry about winning each individual game, and if we do that, hopefully, when you look back at the whole thing, you are where you want to be."

Turning points

The official time between Liriano's last pitch of the seventh inning and his first pitch of the eighth was 29 minutes, 48 seconds. It felt longer than that, especially for Liriano, who had just lost the perfect game on Hughes' error.

"He's pretty quick," Hughes said of Andrus. "I figured I'd come get it. It's just one of those plays. Next time, I say I make it."

Valencia led off the bottom half with the line drive that drilled Harrison and reached on the wounded pitcher's errant throw. After a protracted wait for reliever Mark Lowe to get warm, Jason Repko grounded out, Rene Rivera's grounder got past Andrus up the middle to score Valencia and Matt Tolbert fouled out.

Ben Revere struck out swinging at a pitch that should have ended the inning. But the ball bounced over Torrealba for a wild pitch, allowing Revere to reach, and then Alexi Casilla singled to put two aboard before Cuddyer's homer.

"It's almost like a rain delay there," Gardenhire said. "When you're at (73) pitches and you sit out for 30 minutes -- he kept telling me he had to get up and move around. And not only did he have 70-plus pitches, but he had a no-hitter going, too."

Singles by Delmon Young and Hughes forced the Rangers to bring in another reliever, Yoshinori Tateyama, who got Valencia to fly out to center and end the frame. Liriano reemerged from the dugout with a six-run lead but admitted the delay had caused him to tighten up.

"I could see him try to do to much with his stuff," Rivera said. "I mean, 30 minutes -- any pitcher with 30 minutes in the dugout -- he will be tight a little bit. But (Liriano) did a great job. He was his best."

Numbers game

5: Big-league pitchers who have thrown more than one no-hitter in a single season -- Johnny Vander Meer (1938), Allie Reynolds (1951), Virgil Trucks (1952), Nolan Ryan (1973) and Roy Halladay (2010).

3: Tough plays made by the Twins' defense to keep the perfect game going in to the seventh. In the top of the second, RF Jason Repko made a sliding catch in the corner on an Adrian Beltre fly that would have dropped fair. In the third, Cuddyer barely beat David Murphy to first base after fielding Murphy's grounder. And in the fourth, Hughes stopped Ian Kinsler's hard smash to his backhand side and fired across the diamond for the out.

383: Estimated distance of Cuddyer's home run to left-center field -- his second of the series and fourth since June 3.

2: Starts in which Liriano has struck out nine or more without issuing a walk. The other was on June 11, 2010.

.414: Hughes' batting average (12-for-29) over his past eight games -- a stretch in which he has three doubles, an RBI and seven runs scored. He was 3-for-4 with three singles and a first-inning RBI on Sunday.

Health watch

• C Joe Mauer (leg weakness, general soreness) went 1-for-4 with a double and an RBI for Single-A Fort Myers on Sunday, catching seven innings behind the plate. Mauer will catch again Monday, and possibly Tuesday, and after facing Joe Nathan on Wednesday he could rejoin the Twins later in the week.

• INF Tsuyoshi Nishioka (broken fibula) was scheduled to play shortstop for Rochester on Sunday, and he will likely play two or three games before possibly rejoining the big league club midweek.

• DH Jim Thome (back, quad soreness) was scheduled to take more swings on Sunday, and he could head to Fort Myers to continue rehab as soon as Monday.

• LHP Glen Perkins (oblique) threw a scoreless inning for Rochester in Toledo on Saturday, striking out two, and he's scheduled to throw two more innings on Tuesday.

• 1B Justin Morneau sat out his third straight game Sunday, and he may wind up visiting with a hand specialist on Monday to see if there are any underlying issues with his sore left wrist. It's possible Morneau could return to the lineup on Tuesday.

• OF Jason Kubel (sprained foot) feels fine in the batting cage, according to head athletic trainer Rick McWane, but still feels some soreness when running.

• OF Denard Span (whiplash, concussion) continues to progress, but still feels somewhat "spacey" and fuzzy.

• RHP Joe Nathan (elbow tenderness) will face live hitters in Fort Myers on Monday. Nathan will then throw his second session on Wednesday against a group of hitters that likely will include Mauer.

• RHP Kevin Slowey (abdominal strain) was scheduled to throw off a mound in Fort Myers on Sunday.

Overheard

"It's fun again. We're having fun in the clubhouse. Everyone's joking around and stuff like that. It's contagious. Benny's been sparking it for us at the top of the lineup, and Cuddy's been doing the whole season long. So, it's definitely guys like that playing well, picking each other up, and it's fun again, man. It's so much fun in here. Can't wait to get back here on Tuesday."
-- Hughes, on what's been different during the Twins' recent hot streak

On deck

The Twins are off on Monday.

Coming up

• Tuesday: vs. Chicago White Sox, 7:10 p.m. RHP Carl Pavano (3-5, 4.54 ERA) vs. RHP Gavin Floyd (6-5, 3.89).
• Wednesday: vs. Chicago White Sox, 7:10 p.m. RHP Nick Blackburn (5-4, 3.47) vs. LHP Mark Buehrle (6-4, 3.95).
• Thursday: vs. Chicago White Sox, 12:10 p.m. LHP Brian Duensing (3-6, 4.98) vs. RHP Edwin Jackson (4-5, 4.39).

Phil Mackey contributed to this report.

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.
Email Tom | @TomPelissero | Tom Pelissero
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