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Twins' Liriano takes bite out of Rays, upstages Kazmir

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Eyebrows were raised when Francisco Liriano
was beat up by the Cleveland Indians in his first start after the
All-Star break.

Don't worry, Twins fans, the kid was just a little worn out from
a whirlwind All-Star tour.

Liriano outclassed fellow young gun Scott Kazmir, allowing three
hits over 8 2-3 innings in Minnesota's 8-1 victory over the Tampa
Bay Devil Rays on Tuesday night.

"It was really nice that I didn't feel so tired," said
Liriano, who hit 95 mph on the radar gun in the ninth inning. "I
was pretty tired in my last start."

What was billed as a matchup of two of the best young lefties in
baseball proved to be no match at all.

Liriano (11-2) struck out seven to bounce back from his worst
start of the season and received a standing ovation when he took
the mound to start the ninth, while Kazmir (10-7) showed plenty of
rust in his first start in nine days.

After traveling from his native Dominican Republic to Pittsburgh
as a last-minute fill-in for the AL All-Star squad, Liriano gave up
five runs and five hits in five innings of a loss to Cleveland last
week.

He looked like his old self against the nose-diving Devil Rays,
who lost their fifth straight and 10th in a row to the Twins dating
to July 21, 2004. The 22-year-old Liriano didn't allow a baserunner
until Julio Lugo's leadoff single in the fourth.

"He looked as good as the scoreboard said," said Tampa
designated hitter Jonny Gomes, who was 0-for-3.

Liriano just missed his first career complete game. Tomas Perez
reached on an error to start the ninth and Rocco Baldelli's
run-scoring single chased Liriano with two outs. Kyle Lohse struck
out Jorge Cantu for the final out.

"He was throwing the ball as good as you can throw the
baseball," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "He just dominated
them."

Kazmir gave up four runs and seven hits in six innings,
including a towering home run to Justin Morneau in the fourth that
gave Liriano more than enough support.

"He started slowly," Devil Rays manager Joe Maddon said.
"Early on he did not have that rhythm. He just wasn't sharp
tonight."

Kazmir, the AL's other 22-year-old rising star, pitched one
inning in the All-Star game, but hadn't started a game since July
8. He was scratched from his scheduled start on Saturday because of
a stiff neck.

He fell behind leadoff hitter Luis Castillo 3-0 before getting
him to pop out weakly to first, then gave up a triple to Nick
Punto.

Joe Mauer followed with a single to make it 1-0.

"That's the thing about No. 1 starters, you have to get them
early," Punto said. "If you don't get them early, they get
comfortable and they settle down and it's always tough to come get
them."

The Twins opened the third with three straight singles, the last
by Castillo driving in Jason Tyner. Punto followed with a sacrifice
fly to make it 3-0.

Morneau's 25th homer of the season made it 4-0 in the fourth. It
was just the second homer, and fifth extra-base hit, Kazmir has
allowed to a lefty all year.

"I made a couple pitches I really didn't want to and they
capitalized on it," Kazmir said.

A disastrous relief appearance by Edwin Jackson allowed the
Twins to pull away in the seventh. He gave up singles to Rondell
White and Josh Rabe, then hit Tyner before his wild pitch allowed
White to score from third.

Punto's second hit of the game scored two more runs, thanks in
part to a great slide from Tyner at home to make it 7-0, and that
was it for Jackson, who gave up four runs and three hits in
one-third of an inning.

Punto had three RBI and Mauer added two hits and two RBI for
the Twins, who won their fifth in a row.

The Rays have lost eight of nine to fall a season-worst 16 games
below .500.

"This," Gomes said, "is the toughest stretch of the season
for us."

Game notes
Baldelli made a nice play in the second on a hit and run.
Baldelli caught a line drive in right-center from Rabe, then gunned
down White with a picture-perfect throw to first to end the inning.
... White was doubled off first again in the fourth after a leaping
catch by SS Julio Lugo. ... Castillo's single in the third extended
his hitting streak to a season-high 12 games. ... Rabe collected
his first major league hit with a single in the seventh.