Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The plays that got Liriano a no-hitter

Not perfect, but perfect enough (Photo: AP)
As a fan, it had been frustrating to watch Francisco Liriano struggle at the beginning of this season. The 2010 season was a great one for Liriano as he looked like he was becoming the ace of the staff for the Twins. Many thought, my self included, the Twins should offer Liriano a long-term deal this offseason to commit him to the Twins for the foreseeable future. The start of this season had been a stark contrast to the fireball throwing lefty that started to reemerge in 2010.

But for one night that changed...

Francisco Liriano was not perfect on Tuesday night. He did not have the greatest command of all of his pitches. There were six walks spread out throughout the game that lead to a lot of base-runners behind Liriano. There were some tremendous defensive plays that were turned behind him.

There had been a lot of talk in recent days that this could be Liriano's last start in the rotation for the foreseeable future. Kevin Slowey had been getting stretched out while he fights his way back from a shoulder injury. Liriano's back was against the wall and he found another level that the Twins needed to see from their 27-year old lefty.

It was Liriano's 95th start at the big league level. Before this game, he had never been able to pitch a complete game, let alone a no-hitter. That's not the style of Liriano. He is a strikeout pitcher and that usually leads to a high pitch count. His pitch count still was high on this evening but the Twins let him go to the end with 123 pitches (only 66 strikes).

There are usually some signature defensive plays that happen behind a pitcher when he pitches a no-hitter. There also needed to be some offense on the board to back-up the pitcher's performance. Here is a look at the three biggest plays from last night's game that help Liriano complete his remarkable no-hitter. The plays are listed in the order they occurred.

Kubel's Homerun- The Twins offense has been atrocious to start the year and it is tough to win a game with a score of 0-0. Jason Kubel has been the best bat in the line-up for the Twins, so it was fitting that he would provide the only offense. Kubel blasted a fourth inning homerun that would be the difference in the game. It could have been much more interesting if Liriano still had a no-hitter and the Twins hadn't scored a run. Kubel made sure that was not a worry for Twins faithful.

Valencia's Backhand Stop- The 7th inning of a no-hitter is the time when a lot of people start to focus in on the amount of outs that are left in the game. Liriano only had seven more outs to get and that was when Carlos Quentin smashed a ball down the third baseline. To most, it looked like it would be a hit if it stayed fair. The umpire signaled fair and that is where Danny Valencia stepped in to take a hit away. A fantastic defensive effort by the young third baseman saved the no-hitter and left Twins fans with their jaws on the ground.

The Scoop by Morneau- There are some that say the toughest outs to get are the last three of the game. That was clearly the case in the ninth inning at US Cellular Field. Liriano's pitch count was rising as he got closer to the cusp of his no-no. The Twins had switched the positions of the middle infielders for this game. Alexi Casilla had moved to second base and Matt Tolbert had moved to shortstop. The shortstop, Tolbert, was faced with a tough play to his right in that ninth inning. He made the play cleanly but his throw across the diamond was a little low. Justin Morneau, the Twins first baseman, made and outstanding scoop to record the out and save one of the last threats of a hit from the White Sox.

The only question left might be what Liriano owes the players listed above for their outstanding plays.

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