MINNEAPOLIS -- Francisco Liriano was nearly untouchable for seven of his eight innings on Friday. But the A's got their money's worth in the fourth. Jonny Gomes' grand slam was enough to beat out Josh Willingham's two home runs and deal the Twins a 6-3 loss in front of 33,230 at Target Field.
With the exception of the fourth, Liriano sliced his way through Oakland's lineup, seemingly at will. His 15 strikeouts established a new career high and tied him with Chris Sale and Max Scherzer for most in a game this season. The 15 also tied him with four other hurlers for the second-most in Twins history. Johan Santana's 17-strikeout game against the Rangers on Aug. 19, 2007, remains the club record.
Liriano threw eight innings and allowed just four hits, the only runs coming on Gomes' slam. The defeat marked the 23rd time since 1961 that a pitcher struck out 15 or more and still lost, and the first since Cliff Lee struck out 16 in a loss to Atlanta on May 6, 2011.
"He did everything you're supposed to do as a pitcher," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "He made one bad pitch after we made some mistakes. I tip my hat to him, son of a gun, that was fun to watch."
Liriano worked with almost untouchable stuff, striking out the side in the first. The left-hander continued to ring up more strikeout victims, recording eight of his first nine outs with third strikes. He needed only 3 1/3 innings to match his previous season high of nine K's.
His 10th career 10-plus strikeout game was also his first since Aug. 1, 2010, against Seattle.
"I just wanted to make sure I threw the ball down," Liriano said. "Me and [catcher] Drew [Butera] were on the same page. I guess I just didn't try to do too much. Hit my spots and let the rest happen."
Liriano has tallied six or more strikeouts in eight of his nine starts since rejoining the starting rotation on May 30. More importantly, he owns a 2.82 ERA in those nine outings after going 0-5 with a 9.45 ERA in his first six trips to the hill.
"I think his confidence is high right now, and that's the key to his success," Butera said. "He's not afraid. He goes right after them. He knows his stuff is good enough to get outs."
Jemile Weeks' single led off a troublesome fourth. Denard Span dropped Yoenis Cespedes' fly ball two batters later that would have marked the second out. The play was originally ruled an out but a review showed Span didn't control the ball before dropping it.
"You have to make the plays," Gardenhire said of Span's error. "... That's the disappointing part. [Liriano] should have been in the dugout."
Liriano walked Chris Carter before surrendering the grand slam to Gomes on what he described as a hanging changeup.
Gomes struck out on three pitches in his first at-bat against Liriano in the second.
"A guy like that who's pounding the strike zone, you can't really give in, so you gotta swing and just hope it's a strike, not like the first three pitches I swung at," Gomes said. "You saw the first at-bat, three pitches, three swings. The second at-bat, one swing and a homer. You just gotta be aggressive off of him."
Willingham blasted both of his home runs off Oakland starter A.J. Griffin, hitting a solo shot in the second and a two-run homer in the fourth, his 20th and 21st of the season. Four of Willingham's home runs have come against Oakland, his former team.
Willingham saw seven pitches before recording an official at-bat against Griffin, as Span was caught stealing to end the first while Willingham was at the plate.
"I knew every pitch that he had, pretty much, and I didn't even have an at-bat yet," Willingham said. "I think that helped more than anything."
A Willingham walk and a double by Justin Morneau set Trevor Plouffe up for a potential go-ahead hit with two outs in the eighth against Grant Balfour. But Plouffe lined a 3-2 pitch right at Weeks, who caught it for the inning's third out.
Plouffe and Morneau both extended their hit streaks to 11 games.
Leading 4-3 entering the ninth, the A's tacked on a pair of insurance runs, as Gomes plated a run with a single to cap a five-RBI night.
Jordan Garretson is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.