MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Francisco Liriano didn’t just hit the wall in the sixth inning, he slammed into it. Then the Minnesota Twins went tumbling to a series-opening loss to their October nemesis.
Liriano frittered away his five shutout innings by falling behind in the count and giving up big hits to Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson, and Teixeira’s two-run homer off reliever Jesse Crain in the seventh spurred the New York Yankees to a 6-4 victory over the Twins in Game 1 of their division series on Wednesday night.
This was no ambush by the Yankees. It was simply another confident comeback against the team that can’t seem to beat them when it counts, as the Twins dropped their seventh straight postseason game to the pinstriped powerhouse.
“We’re trying to stay focused,” Liriano said, “and not think like that.”
Overall, they are 2-10 against the Yankees, including first-round losses in 2003, 2004 and 2009. In last year’s sweep, the Yankees trailed in each of their three victories — just like this night.
“Very disappointing, you know, especially when we’re playing at home,” Liriano said.
This one really hurt in a game when Liriano and the Twins were on their way to beating Yankees ace C.C. Sabathia, with the rest of the rotation struggling behind him.
“The ball was darting and diving and the breaking ball was good,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “He just ran into a tough inning and couldn’t get a third out.”
Liriano finally showed the Twins — and the rest of baseball — this season he could over come that Tommy John surgery by pitching a career-high 191 2-3 innings and winning 14 games. The road back from the ligament replacement procedure in his elbow has been a long one, since that stellar 2006 rookie season was cut short when his arm started feeling funny from all those whipsaw pitches.
Considering the seriousness of the injury he came back from, and the leaps he made this summer from that laborious 2009 season, the Twins could hardly ask for more from the Dominican lefty.
His downfall is often a lack of concentration. He’s acknowledged more than once that he has trouble staying focused during critical situations with runners on base, blaming some of his bad innings on that.
Liriano needed 57 pitches to get through three innings, perhaps a harbinger for the fateful sixth.
He had that trusty slider spinning early, getting everybody but Teixeira and Robinson Cano to swing and miss at strike three once. After walking Brett Gardner and giving up a single to Derek Jeter to start the third, Liriano settled in and retired 10 straight. He needed only nine pitches to finish the fourth and appeared in command until Teixeira tagged a one-out pitch in the sixth for a double.
“He was filthy the first five innings. He didn’t miss many pitches. He was throwing everything all over the place,” Teixeira said. “He left a couple pitches up in the sixth, and we just hit his mistakes.”
All of a sudden, after rebounding from a rocket single by Cano that ruined the shutout by striking out Marcus Thames, Liriano was clinging to a one-run lead thanks to a sharp single by Jorge Posada.
Then came a soaring drive by Granderson that glanced off the out-of-town scoreboard in right-center for a two-run triple to make it 4-3. The fans were instantly hushed, quickly deflated after experiencing so many agonizing defeats at the hands of those Yankees.
“I thought it was a routine fly ball,” Liriano said.
He said he was confident in his first career postseason start. Just a few rushed deliveries and a few missed spots, and he was in trouble he wasn’t able to escape.
“I think I was overdoing it that inning,” Liriano said.
His teammates weren’t about to blame him.
“They hit some good pitches. I don’t think it fell apart,” shortstop J.J. Hardy said. “Those guys are good hitters. It was their night.”
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