Having tripped and fallen behind in the race, the Minnesota Twins started the second half with an important series against the division leading Chicago White Sox _ with the packed new ballpark adding to the excitement.
Francisco Liriano is trying to avoid that amped-up feeling, but this time he figured out how to keep from overthrowing.
Liriano gave the sagging Twins a big lift on the mound in a 7-4 victory, and faulty fielding by the White Sox on Friday night led to the end of their nine-game winning streak.
“Exactly what we needed,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “A good dose of medicine.”
Liriano (7-7) left with two outs in the eighth inning to a standing ovation from the Target Field fans on a warm and muggy night, deprived lately of this kind of dominant performance. The Twins had lost Liriano’s last five starts.
“I was just trying to stay back and relaxed, not trying to do too much,” Liriano said.
The White Sox made four errors, and Gavin Floyd (5-8) gave up four runs during a sloppy fourth inning.
“We make a couple of mistakes, and at the end of the day we pay,” manager Ozzie Guillen said.
Said Floyd: “It’s not going to always go your way. You hope it does, but it’s going to eventually stop.”
Jesse Crain got his first save in nearly four years by getting the last two outs with the bases loaded, after Jon Rauch gave up three walks and two hits, striking out Paul Konerko on three pitches.
“Watching Gardy, I don’t think I take baseball that hard,” Guillen said.
Gardenhire gave Rauch a rain check, chalking his struggles up to “post-All-Star-break syndrome.”
Going 26-5 in their previous 31 games, the White Sox were thriving with strong pitching, fundamental hitting and decent defense. Guillen insisted every team in the American League can hit, so the defense and pitching will be what determines the playoffs. This game proved his point.
Joe Mauer’s two-run single in the ninth gave Rauch a five-run pad he needed in the bottom of the inning.
“We need to get on the right track. We’ve been floundering here for about a month,” Gardenhire said, adding: “The crowds are coming out to support this baseball team, and we need to play a better brand of baseball for ’em. Tonight, hopefully that’s a good start.”
The White Sox played without Carlos Quentin, scratched from the lineup because of a bruised right wrist, and they could’ve used another right-handed slugger against Liriano. He struck out eight and allowed just six hits, making a couple of smooth stops of powerful bouncers back to the mound for outs in the first and the seventh.
The Twins emerged from the All-Star break in dire need of a turnaround from each of their starting pitchers not named Carl Pavano. Kevin Slowey’s problems persisted in Thursday’s loss, but Liriano delivered _ with his second-longest outing since April 27.
The first test was to survive the first inning without giving up a run, which he did despite a bunt single and a walk. The left-hander had been scored on 15 times in the first inning of his last seven starts.
“When you can do that and throw all your pitches for strikes, anybody’s going to be good,” Chicago’s Gordon Beckham said. “With his stuff, it’s going to be that much better.”
The final hurdle came in the eighth, and reliever Matt Guerrier helped him clear it by getting Andruw Jones to ground out and end the inning. Juan Pierre drew a leadoff walk, then Alexei Ramirez hit into a double play. Alex Rios reached on a wild pitch after swinging at an elusive third strike, and Konerko cut the lead to 4-2 with a sharp double.
Floyd was tagged for only one earned run in that error-filled fourth, but he walked three in five innings and most of the seven hits against him were hard. Third baseman Dayan Viciedo had a routine grounder miss his glove and glance off his leg to load the bases before J.J. Hardy’s RBI single.
Denard Span’s slow roller to second earned an RBI single, but Beckham tried to barehand the ball and make a same-motion flip to first. It slithered away from Konerko, allowing another run to score.
“Got to field the ball,” Beckham said. “Sometimes it doesn’t happen.”
NOTES: Twins starter Scott Baker, whose last turn came July 8, threw a full bullpen session to test his sore elbow. Baker “felt fantastic,” Gardenhire said. … The White Sox lost by more than two runs for the first time since June 8. … Liriano hasn’t allowed a homer in 17 of his 18 starts.