CLOSE

Now Commenting On:

Promising start sours for Liriano, Twins

Promising start sours for Liriano, Twins

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Twins had heard enough reminders in recent days of their postseason struggles against the Yankees, and they seemed determined to show that this was the year their fortunes had changed.

And for the first five innings in Game 1 of the American League Division Series in what was a picturesque Wednesday night at Target Field, it seemed the Twins were finally turning the tide.

Francisco Liriano was looking like the ace that the Twins needed in a big playoff series, shutting down the vaunted Yankees lineup. And the Minnesota offense had managed to stake itself to an early lead by tagging New York ace CC Sabathia for three runs.

More

But in the span of one inning, all of that momentum and hope for sending a powerful message in the series opener suddenly disappeared.

A four-run Yankees sixth inning against Liriano erased the Twins' growing confidence, and one inning later -- after Minnesota had knotted the game -- Mark Teixeira took a hanging slider from Jesse Crain and snuck it inside the right-field foul pole for a two-run homer that handed the home team a 6-4 loss in Game 1 of the best-of-five series.

"There is disappointment," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said of his team's mood after the loss. "We had a lot of opportunities and big at-bats. We just couldn't come up with another big hit."

One of the biggest question marks for the Twins entering Wednesday night was how Liriano would fare in his first postseason start. The lefty entered the contest with a penchant for getting over-amped in big games, and this was undoubtedly the biggest of his career.


Game 1 had appeared to be the biggest mismatch of starters for the two clubs, with Sabathia having proven himself to be a dominant postseason pitcher en route to a World Series title in 2009 while Liriano was cutting his playoff teeth following a long road back from 2006 Tommy John surgery.

Yet Liriano's first five innings went as smoothly as the Twins could have hoped, as he scattered just two hits while the Twins took advantage of Sabathia.

Sabathia hit Jim Thome with a 94-mph fastball just below his right shoulder to start the second inning, and it didn't take long for the Twins to get retribution.

Michael Cuddyer, the next batter, roped a line drive into the spruce trees in center field off Sabathia to give the Twins a 2-0 lead. There have been very few balls hit out to center field in Target Field's inaugural season, and Cuddyer's 419-foot shot certainly revved up a crowd of 42,032 -- the largest to date at the new ballpark -- that had been looking for a reason to cheer.

In the third inning, the Twins were able to get to Sabathia again. Orlando Hudson led off with a single and, thanks to heads-up baserunning, advanced to third base when first baseman Teixeira and Joe Mauer both dove into first base on a groundout by the Twins' catcher. It put Hudson in position to score from third on a passed ball by Yankees catcher Jorge Posada.

As his team built their lead, Liriano seemed to be gaining more confidence. He retired 10 straight batters, which included a strikeout of Nick Swisher to start the sixth. But that's when all of the trouble began.

Liriano's streak ended when he gave up a one-out double to Teixeira in that sixth inning. A wild pitch in the next at-bat moved Teixeira to third base and Liriano walked Alex Rodriguez to put runners on the corners. AL MVP candidate Robinson Cano singled in a run before Liriano got Marcus Thames to strike out swinging for his seventh strikeout of the night.

Yet, just when it seemed that Liriano might have eluded serious trouble, he found more.

Posada followed with an RBI single that cut the lead to one. Despite having left-hander Jose Mijares warming in the bullpen, Gardenhire stuck with Liriano -- who was at 102 pitches -- to face the left-handed-hitting Curtis Granderson with runners on first and second.

After falling behind, 2-and-1, Granderson hit a high fly to right-center field that hit off the wall and resulted in a two-run triple to give New York a 4-3 lead. It surprised the Twins, who have seen so many of those balls turn into popouts, but Liriano blamed himself.

"I was getting behind in the count and just missing my spots," Liriano said. "You get behind in the count, you end up giving them what they want."

Granderson's hit marked the end of Liriano's night, as he gave up four runs on six hits over 5 2/3 innings, but Gardenhire said there was no discussion about bringing in Mijares to face the Yankees' center fielder.

"I had all the confidence in the world he'd get Granderson out," Gardenhire said. "That's his ballgame. ... That's our ace."

The Twins took Liriano off the hook with one last run off Sabathia in the sixth. Sabathia issued three walks in the inning, including a four-pitch bases-loaded free pass to rookie Danny Valencia that tied the game at 4.

There was a buzz inside Target Field, as the hopes stirred of a rally that would have been the Twins' first comeback victory in the postseason since Game 4 of the 2002 ALDS against Oakland. But on this night, it wasn't to be.

In the seventh, following a one-out single by Swisher, Teixeira hit the towering shot for his third career postseason home run.

The Twins knew they faced a stiff test heading into their series with New York, having lost nine consecutive postseason games leading up to Wednesday's opener.

But now that challenge gets tougher as the team put itself in an 0-1 hole in the short series. No team has lost a first-round opener at home and still advanced to the AL Championship Series since the 2005 Los Angeles Angels, who beat the Yankees in five games.

Now, the Twins will turn to veteran Carl Pavano against Yankees left-hander Andy Pettitte in Game 2 on Thursday night at Target Field with the hopes of getting things turned back around in the series.

"I think there is still that sense of confidence," said Twins reliever Brian Fuentes. "It's not a panic button. It's a short series, for sure, and we wish it was a series of seven, especially after you drop the first one. But we're confident with the staff that we have. We played a good game. We just had two innings get away from us."

Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Less