Francisco Liriano and Tim Hudson are showing that there is indeed life after Tommy John surgery.
Liriano struck out a season-high 11 batters to edge Tim Hudson in a dazzling pitchers’ duel as the Minnesota Twins beat the Atlanta Braves 2-1 on Friday night.
“You’re seeing that happen more and more with people getting that surgery and coming back,” Twins pitching coach Rick Anderson said. “There were two pretty good pitchers out there today that proved that you can come all the way back with it. That was a battle.”
Liriano (6-3) allowed five hits in eight innings and Delmon Young’s pinch-hit single in the seventh inning gave the Dominican lefty just enough run support. Jon Rauch struck out Jason Heyward, Chipper Jones and Troy Glaus in the ninth for his 16th save.
Hudson (6-2) went the distance for the Braves, allowing two runs on seven hits. Five of those came in the Twins’ two-run seventh inning.
The game served as a ringing endorsement for the ligament replacement procedure that once spelled the end of a pitcher’s career.
Both Hudson and Liriano are enjoying resurgent seasons this year after having the surgery.
“Liriano was outstanding,” Braves manager Bobby Cox said. “It was great to watch, to be honest with you. Two outstanding pitchers going at it.”
Hudson had the procedure in 2008 and appeared in only seven games last season.
The right-hander entered the game 6-1 with a 2.44 ERA and had not lost a decision since April 21. He breezed through the first six innings, allowing just two hits as the Braves took a 1-0 lead on a groundout from Omar Infante in the second inning.
He ran into a little trouble in the seventh when the Twins loaded the bases with nobody out. Hudson got Jim Thome looking, but gave up RBI singles to Jason Kubel and Young. He struck out Nick Punto and got Denard Span to ground out to limit the damage, but the Twins still managed to take a 2-1 lead.
“I can’t feel better,” Hudson said. “My arm’s as good as it’s ever been. I wish that they had similar procedures for the rest of your body, but they don’t. (Liriano) looks great, too.”
After an All-Star rookie season in 2006, Liriano had the surgery and missed all of 2007. Perhaps because he is a power pitcher, his return to form has taken much longer than Hudson’s. Liriano labored through 2008 and 2009, but has looked like his old, dominating self this season.
Liriano fanned seven straight Braves at one point in the middle of the game, mixing his fastball and slider to devastating effect. Heyward whiffed three times against him and four times in the game.
“It means a lot,” Liriano said. “I had a tough year last year.”
The game Friday night kicked off the third interleague meeting between the Twins and Braves, who squared off in the epic 1991 World Series won by Minnesota in seven games.
“When you see the Braves, your thoughts immediately go to that,” said Gardenhire, who was the third base coach in 1991.
Gardenhire said he ran into some baseball fans from Atlanta earlier in the day who told him, “We’re coming to pay you back.”
“The sad thing for them is they’ll never pay us back,” Gardenhire said with a big grin. “We have the ring and it will always be our ring.”
NOTES: The Twins honored Braves manager Bobby Cox before the game, recognizing him for his long and successful career. Cox is in his final season. The Twins donated $5,000 to his Homeless Pets Foundation. Ex-Twins manager Tom Kelly, who beat Cox in 1991, wished him continued success “except for the next three days.” … Nick Punto’s double in the third inning gave the Twins a double in 24 straight games, the longest streak in the majors this season. … Liriano’s seven straight Ks tied a franchise record set by Jim Merritt against Washington in 1966. … Infante left the game in the sixth inning with a bruised left foot and was taken for X-rays.