OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Minnesota pitcher Francisco Liriano was able to keep his emotions in check when he got behind in the count. After that, controlling Oakland’s hitters was almost as easy.
Liriano rebounded from his worst start of the season to go seven innings and Michael Cuddyer hit his team-leading 16th homer of the season as the Twins beat the Oakland Athletics 9-5 Friday night.
“He commanded the strike zone a lot better this time,” Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire said. “When he did get behind in the count he was able to flip some balls over to get back into the count, which made a big difference. That was something he couldn’t do last time.”
Liriano (7-8) wasn’t sharp but did enough to beat the A’s for only the second time in nine career starts, finishing with four strikeouts and two walks.
The erratic Minnesota lefty, who was knocked out of his previous start by Detroit after just 2 1-3 innings, pitched in and out of trouble and had runners on first and third with one out in the fourth and sixth. Both times, Liriano got David DeJesus to ground into inning-ending double plays.
In four starts since the All-Star break, Liriano is 2-1 with a 3.22 ERA. Still, he knows he got by without his best stuff.
“I was getting behind in the count to most of the hitters,” Liriano said. “It was a tough night for me to make an adjustment. I was getting behind in the count too much.”
The Twins backed him with plenty of offense.
Trevor Plouffe scored the go-ahead run on a double play in the third and added a pair of RBI singles, and three other players had two hits apiece, as Minnesota won for the third time in its last four games.
Oakland went into the game with the highest team batting average since the All-Star break but had only eight hits against the Twins, three of which didn’t leave the infield.
Josh Willingham homered twice but the A’s didn’t do much else and dropped their second straight. They also committed a pair of costly errors, including one by starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez.
“We didn’t play very good defense today,” Oakland manager Bob Melvin said. “We made a couple of errors that got Gio’s pitch count up.”
Plouffe had only two hits but was on base all five times up and scored three runs. He reached by fielder’s choice in the first against Gonzalez, on a throwing error by Oakland third baseman Scott Sizemore in the third, and on another fielder’s choice in the sixth.
Sandwiched in between was his run-scoring single that drove in Ben Revere in the fifth which gave the Twins a 4-2 lead. Plouffe also had an RBI single during a four-run eighth.
Cuddyer added a three-run homer in the eighth, as Minnesota beat Oakland for the fourth time in six games this year.
“We were just kind of nickel and diming them … and just kind of went from there,” Gardenhire said.
Willingham’s home run off Liriano in the first briefly tied the game at 2. He added a three-run shot in the eighth against Jose Mijares to make it 9-5.
Hideki Matsui went 3 for 4 for the A’s but the rest of the offense did little.
They didn’t get much help from their pitching, either.
Gonzalez (9-8) allowed five runs and nine hits over 5 1-3 innings. Oakland’s All-Star left-hander struck out five but walked three and made a costly throwing error in the third which led to Minnesota’s go-ahead run.
Plouffe reached safely when Sizemore’s throw pulled first baseman Conor Jackson off the bag. The next batter, Joe Mauer, hit a comebacker to Gonzalez but the A’s pitcher threw wildly into center field, allowing Plouffe to move to third.
Cuddyer then grounded into a 4-6-3 double play, Plouffe scoring to give Minnesota a 3-2 lead.
The Twins opened the fifth with three straight singles to make it 4-2. Ben Revere had an infield hit, stole second then scored on Plouffe’s single.
Gonzalez continued to struggle in the sixth, allowing a pair of singles before issuing back-to-back walks to Drew Butera and Revere, the second forcing in Delmon Young.
Minnesota broke it open with a four-run eighth when Cuddyer hit his 16th homer of the year.
Jason Kubel’s two-run double in the first gave the Twins a 2-0 lead.
NOTES: It’s the 10th time in Willingham’s career he’s hit two home runs. … Liriano is 4-3 since coming off the disabled list June 6. … Matsui was honored by the A’s in a pre-game ceremony commemorating his 500th career home run. … Oakland SS Cliff Pennington extended his career-high hitting streak to 13 games.
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