MINNEPOLIS (AP) — Francisco Liriano sniffed his second no-hitter of the season, sitting in the dugout for nearly a half-hour before Adrian Beltre led off the eighth inning with a clean single, and the Minnesota Twins beat the Texas Rangers 6-1 Sunday.
Liriano (4-6), who held the Chicago White Sox hitless in a wild effort May 3, month, was perfect through the sixth against the high-scoring Rangers. He needed only 64 pitches to retire the first 18 batters.
Elvis Andrus was the first Texas player to reach base, on rookie third baseman Luke Hughes’ fielding error with one out in the seventh on a questioned ruling.
The Twins scored five times in the bottom of the seventh, an inning that included an injury to Texas starter Matt Harrison. The frame took 29 minutes, a layoff that surely didn’t help Liriano’s cause. When the lefty returned to the mound, Beltre hit a hard single to left-center field.
Liriano matched a season high by striking out nine in eight innings, allowing two hits without a walk.
Liriano came close to becoming the first Twins pitcher to throw twin nine-inning no-hitters in the same season. Dean Chance had a pair of hitless performances in August 1967, although the first one was a five-inning game.
Roy Halladay pitched two no-hitters last year — a perfect game against Florida in the regular season and a no-no against Cincinnati in the NL playoffs. Nolan Ryan was the last pitcher to throw a pair of no-hitters in the same regular season, in 1973 for the California Angels.
Harrison (5-6) left after being struck on his left triceps muscle by Danny Valencia’s line drive leading off the seventh, and reliever Mark Lowe was given extra time to warm up. Then the Twins sent 10 batters to the plate, highlighted by Michael Cuddyer’s three-run homer to stretch the lead to 6-0.
After Beltre’s hit, Liriano struck out Nelson Cruz but gave up a single to Yorvit Torrealba that spoiled the shutout. Liriano drew a loud ovation from the sellout crowd, both after the first hit and as he walked off the field after finishing the eighth.
Harrison wasn’t bad himself, allowing five hits and two runs — one earned — while walking three and striking out three through six innings. The left-hander has been bothered by pain from a kidney stone, but he bounced back from a rough start against Detroit on Tuesday by pitching strong into the seventh.
Liriano’s perfect game ended with one out in the seventh, when the fast-footed Andrus hit a slow bouncer that hugged the line and Hughes, playing third base in the majors for only the fifth time in his career, tried to make a backhanded play.
The ball went under his glove and glanced off his knee toward the Texas dugout, allowing Andrus to take second. Official scorer Gregg Wong, after reviewing replays, ruled the play an error on Hughes.
But Liriano went right back at the Rangers, retiring Josh Hamilton and Michael Young on routine fly balls to finish the inning and keep the no-hitter in tact for the eighth.
Hughes had three hits, including an RBI single in the first inning, and made a deft stab of a sharp grounder while playing in against Ian Kinsler in the fourth and got up in time to throw for the out.
Liriano had plenty of help from his defense, including a sliding catch by left fielder Jason Repko at the line to take a hit from Beltre in the second inning. Cuddyer made a difficult play at first base for an unassisted out in the third by moving to his right to scoop David Murphy’s chopper and racing to beat him to the bag by a hair.
The Rangers had plenty of pop in their lineup, with only regulars Mitch Moreland and Mike Napoli missing, but they looked lost against Liriano.
This has been another up-and-down season for Liriano, whose rookie-year dominance in 2006 has yet to be re-established on a regular basis since the elbow injury — and subsequent ligament replacement surgery — that kept him out of major league action from September 2006 to April 2008.
Even this year, with the no-hitter against the White Sox in Chicago included, just four of his first 10 starts qualified as quality: six innings or more and three runs or fewer.
He spent 15 days on the disabled list recently due to inflammation in his throwing shoulder, returning Tuesday in a 1-0 loss in Cleveland to the Indians. He was on a strict pitch count that game, throwing 81 times and striking out seven in five innings.
Before the game Sunday, though, manager Ron Gardenhire said the leash was off for Liriano, and let loose, he did.
Finishing a four-pitch strikeout of Hamilton, the reigning American League Most Valuable Player, Liriano ended the fourth inning in style by getting him to swing feebly and miss at sliders clocked at 85 and 87 mph.
NOTES: Harrison had X-rays, which showed no broken bones. … Liriano had a 9.13 ERA after his first five starts this season. … Hamilton is set to tape an appearance on the David Letterman show Monday in New York, where the Rangers begin a three-game series against the Yankees Tuesday.
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