Wednesday

5-4-11: The No-No-Ness Of It All...

Hello again everybody...

Regular readers will recall the number of times I announced a plan for a future column only to have it blown out of the water by circumstances entirely beyond my control.

Today's column is yet another example of one I never planned to write.

I had every intention of waiting until today to pen a “While I Was Gone” column for publication on Thursday. That may not happen until Friday now. We'll see...

I say that because the way these things go, I'll get it all written out and there'll end up being three perfect games thrown Thursday night, or something equally as unlikely.

You just never know!

So what happened to blow up my initial plans? Well if you don't already know, I'm a little disappointed in you... but only a little.

I'll tell you all about it...

Right after the quote!

“If I knew he was gonna pitch a no-hitter, I'd a thrown one too.”
- Dizzy Dean, after his brother Daffy pitched a no-hitter in 1934 for the St. Louis Cardinals


They're nicknames people... it's baseball, what can I say?!


The No-No-Ness Of It All...

Going into last night, the Twins had lost six straight games, being swept in two straight series by the Tampa Bay Rays and the Kansas City Royals.

Yes, those Kansas City Royals.

Needless to say, it was another low point in a season that's been full of them.

But one of the reasons I love baseball so much is that just when you think you've got it figured out, it manages to surprise you.

Francisco Liriano came into last night with a 1-4 record, a gaudy 9.13 ERA and an ugly 1.00 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

His control was poor. His pitch selection was questionable. And his mental toughness was as much of a question mark as it had ever been.

There were strong rumors coming out of the manager's office that another poor start would result in Francisco heading to the bullpen in favor of Kevin Slowey who's about ready to return to the big club after a rehab assignment.

That's how bad he's been. Gardenhire was basically saying, “we'd rather start a guy who couldn't win a job coming out of Spring Training, than you.”

Ouch.

Last night's opponent was the Chicago White Sox. Definitely amongst the Top 5 of my “Teams I Wouldn't Mind Losing In A Tragic Plane Crash”.

Harsh? Yes. But true.

The White Sox have been almost as bad as the Twins so far this season. While the Twins went into last night with by far the worst run differential in the majors (-64), the White Sox had the third-worst in the bigs, and second worst in the AL (-32).

Something, clearly, had to give.

When I say that, I mean that I figured one of the teams would have a breakout night offensively, while the other drank heavily.

I certainly didn't expect a 1-0 pitchers duel with a no-hitter involved!

That's right. In his 95th start as a major league pitcher, Twins lefty Francisco Liriano not only pitched his first career complete game, but also retired 27 White Sox hitters without surrendering a base hit.

And as with most no-hitters, it came with plenty of drama.

Jason Kubel plated the only run of the game - himself - with a solo home run in the fourth. It was nice to see the Twins finally grab a lead, though it was far from obvious that his big-fly would end up being the game-winning RBI.

In the seventh inning, Danny Valencia made a brilliant back-handed stop of a Carlos Quentin smash down the third base line, and made a long throw to first to nip Quentin by a hair.

In the eighth, Liriano issued one of his six walks (soooo close to a perfect game... you know... or not), but got Gordon Beckham to ground into a 5-4-3 double play - sort of - to preserve the no-hitter.

Why “sort of”, you ask? Well Alexi Casilla's throw to first base pulled Justin Morneau off the bag, so Justin had to do the spinning-tag bit... only he missed... and it wasn't that close.

I think I can speak for Morneau when I say, if you're going to miss that tag, then it's advisable that you miss it with the runner between you and the first base umpire. That way, maybe he'll give you the benefit of the doubt and call the guy out, which is exactly what happened.

What's that you say? Where's my outrage? Where's the screaming and hollering about a “tainted” no-hitter?

Two things...

One, if the call had been made correctly, it would've been scored as a Fielder's Choice, so the no-hitter would've remained intact. Yes, it would've allowed another hitter to come to the plate, but that hitter would've been Brent Morel, who was hitting .194 coming into that game.

It's just a guess, but I think the no-no would've continued on unblemished.

Two, Liriano's on my club. If a guy's on your favorite team and he gets a favorable call, you don't question it. You remember all of the ridiculously bad calls that didn't go your way (Phil Cuzzi, I'm looking at you) and chalk it up to the baseball gods evening things out.

So pardon me if I ignore anyone who suggests that Frankie's no-hitter was something other than legit. Sorry, you'll have to come up with something more egregious than that!

As no-hitters go, it certainly wasn't a dominant performance by Liriano. The aforementioned six walks were accompanied by only two strikeouts (bye-bye 1.00 K/BB ratio). He threw 123 pitches, but only 66 for strikes.

The truth is, if he hadn't had the no-hitter going, he likely would've been out of the game after the 7th or 8th inning.

But he did have that no-no going, and he deserves all due credit for it.

His control struggles were more pronounced early on in the game. During the middle innings, however, he found some control with his change-up and was able to mix in his nasty slider and enough fastballs to keep hitters honest.

Sometimes that's all it takes. He's not going to win a Cy Young with the stuff he had last night, but if he manages to learn something about adjusting as the game goes along, maybe he can start to turn his season around.

I'm even tempted to suggest that perhaps something as rare as a no-hitter could help turn the entire club's season around, but that might be wishful thinking.

It was great to see the boys finally start playing defense like they're capable of, so that's encouraging.

But the offense is still woeful. Unless this club starts figuring out ways to string together multiple quality at-bats, last night will remain merely a brief bright spot in an otherwise dismal spring.

Remember, the no-hitter was great, but the club's run differential went from -64 to -63.

Yeah, there's still a long way to go.

That's going to wrap things up for today. I still have my notes for my “While I Was Away” column standing by, so perhaps I'll get a chance to throw that together before the end of the week.

Until next time, thanks for reading.

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