Francisco Liriano's surprising no-no
Struggling Twins get unlikely shot in the arm, while White Sox get more of the same
The left-hander drew all the focus by pitching the first no-hitter of the 2011 season in a matchup of two down-on-their-luck teams. At least the 1-0 final score was representative of the offensive struggles from both clubs.
Just how backward was this rags-to-riches contest?
Liriano, a noted strikeout pitcher, was dumbfounded that his first career no-hitter and complete game came on a night when he walked six and struck out only two.
In fact, he had walked so many White Sox batters that he had no idea he was throwing a no-hitter until the moment of truth was nearly at hand. His suspicions were aroused in the eighth inning.
"When everybody was walking away from me and nobody was talking to me I was like, 'What's going on?' " Liriano said.
The two-story-high scoreboard in left field couldn't hide the secret any longer.
Admittedly running out of gas, Liriano held on for the 123-pitch piece of history, ending it when he got Adam Dunn to line out to Matt Tolbert at shortstop with the tying run in Juan Pierre at first base after a walk.
With a myriad of thoughts running through his head, Liriano was still well aware that the red-hot Paul Konerko loomed on deck behind Dunn. Catcher Drew Butera came out to the mound once in the ninth inning, at the very least so that Liriano wouldn't hyper-ventilate.
"He told me to don't try and do too much, just make some great pitches and hopefully they hit it to somebody," Liriano said. "I was just trying not to walk anybody because I didn't want to face Konerko. He just told me to settle down and just make some good pitches right here."
He still went 3-2 to the burly slugger, whose liner the opposite way was hit on the nose. Liriano was sure it was a hit.
"Yeah, I thought so because you always play pull to him," Liriano said. "I thought it was a base hit, but thank God Tolbert caught it, and I'm very happy and very excited."
Twins manager Ron Gardenhire was going through a completely different set of emotions as the final outs approached.
"Oh, I almost threw up, I'm telling you," Gardenhire said. "Top of the ninth, I had to run up and grab a bottle of water because I had nothing in my throat, it's like in 'Jaws,' I couldn't spit. I had to get a bottle of water and suck it down. I wanted it for him so bad that your mouth gets so dry."
When you throw a no-hitter, everything worked perfectly for you. Your defense worked. You are pitching well. Everything was working for him." -- White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen
It was the fifth no-hitter in Twins history and the first since fellow left-hander Eric Milton pulled off the feat Sept. 11, 1999 against the then Anaheim Angels. It was the seventh no-no in franchise history, counting two from the team's Washington Senators days.
For the White Sox, they were no-hit for the 13th time in franchise history and the first since Bret Saberhagen did it in 1991 at Kansas City.
The last time an opponent threw a no-hitter against the White Sox in Chicago was in 1984, across the street at the old Comiskey Park.
If the White Sox were waiting for their anemic offense to hit rock bottom, maybe it just happened. Maybe.
The White Sox entered with a .210 batting average and 57 runs scored in their previous 21 games. They have now scored four runs or less in 18 of their past 20 games. They have won just once over their past nine home games and just four times over their past 20 games overall.
The good news/bad news scenario for the White Sox is the day game on Wednesday to close a brief two-game series. They won't have time to dwell on it, but won't have much time for adjustments, either.
"I mean, this is my first time ever to go through this," Dunn said. "Yeah, it is just one loss and we've got a game in less than 12 hours. We've got to get something going offensively to take the pressure off the pitchers."
Tuesday's bad luck was heaped upon Edwin Jackson, who delivered one of his best outings of the season. He also got a taste of his own medicine. His no-hitter last season against the Tampa Bay Rays was also in a 1-0 contest and, like Liriano, he struggled to find the strike zone, walking eight.
"It's his first complete game, so it's one of those things where you have to stay in the same mode and really let the game affect you and he stayed in control of the game, regardless of whether he walked someone or he was a little erratic," Jackson said. "He made his pitches when he needed to."
When it was over fiery manager Ozzie Guillen wasn't turning over furniture or barking expletives. He gave Liriano all the credit, but could have noted that his own offense hasn't been the best of challenges lately.
"It was not the same Liriano we see in the past, but he was pretty good [Tuesday]," Guillen said. "I can't say anything bad about him. When you throw a no-hitter, everything worked perfectly for you. Your defense worked. You are pitching well. Everything was working for him."
Perhaps it's Guillen's turn next to get a potentially momentum-turning victory, although as he noted when Mark Buehrle pitched his perfect game in 2009 the White Sox had a taste of first place only to ultimately fall well off the pace.
"It's such a nice thing to see the young man smile like that," Gardenhire said of Liriano. "He lifted everybody up in this clubhouse, and we definitely needed to be lifted up. It takes a superhuman effort like that, and that's what we got tonight. It's so very exciting for us."
Doug Padilla covers the White Sox for ESPNChicago.com.