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07/02/06 8:05 PM ET
Liriano blanks Brewers in Twins' sweep
Southpaw allows three hits with 12 K's in eight innings
By Kelly Thesier / MLB.com
MINNEAPOLIS -- Francisco Liriano struck out a career-high 12 hitters and allowed just three hits over his eight scoreless innings as the Twins shut out the Brewers, 8-0, on Sunday to capture the series sweep and their 10th straight victory.
"I don't know how many times or how many different ways you can describe the way he's throwing the baseball," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "But it's pretty nasty up there. You see guys up there swinging and missing that don't do that very often, very good hitters. He dominated the ballgame."
Normally one to shy away from praise, Liriano even admitted his outing was his best of the year. Liriano learned after the game that he is a candidate for the Monster.com Final Vote, which means he's eligible to go to the 2006 All-Star Game in Pittsburgh if enough fans vote him in. Liriano is one of five American League players that were selected to compete for the final spot on the 32-man roster.
"I don't really think about that," Liriano said. "I just try to keep doing what I'm doing. If I don't make it this year, I can make it next year."
If his performance on Sunday was his audition, then it seems the left-hander would have gathered more than a few supporters.
Liriano's ability to work his way out of a difficult spot in the first inning signaled that good things were to come.
Liriano (9-1) started off a bit shaky, as he hit the Brewers leadoff hitter, Rickie Weeks, with a pitch in the first inning. The left-hander then gave up a single to Jeff Cirillo to put runners on first and second with no outs.
Then, on an 0-2 count to Corey Hart, Liriano slipped on the mound and fell with the ball still in his hand. He was called for a balk, advancing the runners to second and third as Gardenhire and the Twins' training staff raced out to see if he was OK.
"I think it was more the embarrassment that he fell with the ball in his hand," Gardenhire said. "It would have been entertaining to see if he had let it go, where it went. It might have been a strike, for the way things are going lately."
"I was trying to take a slide step and I slipped," Liriano said. "But I was all right."
Hart wasn't, though, as Liriano delivered another hard pitch to strike the Brewers first baseman out swinging. Liriano delivered two more quick outs in the inning, and it was the only time he would really find himself in trouble.
The Twins' offense came to Liriano's rescue. After scoring one run in the first on a Michael Cuddyer RBI single, the Twins put together a five-run inning in the third thanks to some clutch hitting and a few miscues on behalf of the Brewers' defense.
Justin Morneau came up big in the inning, delivering a ball up the middle to Weeks that the second baseman misplayed, and Morneau was able to reach on the error. Two runs would score on the play and after a walk to Torii Hunter loaded the bases with just one out, Shannon Stewart hit a bloop double to right that would score two more and make it a 6-0 Twins lead.
Morneau put an exclamation point on his day when he delivered his 21st home run of the year in the fifth. The Twins first baseman wasn't selected to the All-Star team, even though he's near the top of many categories in the league (home runs and RBIs).
"Maybe if I started a little earlier, it was really in the last month that I've really been in there with leaders in RBIs and such," Morneau said. "It's tough. I kind of snuck up on some people there."
The Twins' scoring binges gave Liriano liberty to cruise easily through the rest of his outing, as he gave up just two hits following the first inning. He threw a total of 103 pitches and lasted through the eighth before Kyle Lohse came on to pitch the ninth inning and hold on for the team's third shutout of the season.
As for why he decided to take Liriano out of the game, Gardenhire said that it was a matter of making sure his pitcher will remain strong throughout the rest of the year.
"Kyle needed to get an inning in, and we needed to protect this young man as much as we possibly can with the great arm that he's got," Gardenhire said.