Twins 4, Pirates 2

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PITTSBURGH (AP)—Francisco Liriano isn’t only one of the majors’ top rookies, he is quickly become a dominating starter for the Minnesota Twins. On a night one mistake might have cost him, he showed a veteran’s poise to turn a possible loss into a victory.

Liriano shook off an early two-run deficit to strike out a career-best 11 and the Twins rallied for three runs in the seventh against Ian Snell to beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 4-2 Friday night.

In a matchup of two of the majors’ most promising young pitchers—Liriano is 22 and Snell is 24—the right-handed Snell (7-4) missed a chance to become the first Pirates starter since Doug Drabek in 1990 to win six consecutive starts.

“It was kind of fun watching these two young guys go out there and fling the ball around,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “But Liriano is pretty special for us, and we had one big inning where we banged the ball around and got to the middle of the lineup, which has been carrying us.”

Liriano (6-1) fell behind when Jack Wilson hit a two-run homer into the left field seats on a 3-2 pitch in the third—only the second homer off Liriano in 58 1-3 innings. Liriano walked Snell, who was hitting .053, in the inning and couldn’t retire Wilson during a 10-pitch at-bat.

“The changeup and the slider, he was fouling off, but the one he hit was a fastball,” Liriano said. “He made good contact, it was down and in and he got out in front of it.”

The Pirates did little after that against Liriano, who had allowed two or fewer hits in three of his previous five starts. After allowing the homer, Liriano struck out five of the next eight hitters. He was lifted after throwing 101 pitches, giving up five hits and walking one.

“My arm feels great,” Liriano said. “I just want to keep throwing the ball, everything is feeling so good right now.”

As good as Liriano was, Snell was even better during six shutout innings. But he walked Nick Punto to start the seventh, the only man he walked, and AL batting leader Joe Mauer singled. Michael Cuddyer doubled down the left-field line to score Punto. Justin Morneau’s sacrifice fly tied it, and Torii Hunter’s single up the middle made it 3-2.

“That walk to the leadoff man in the seventh after he was ahead in the count 0-and-2, that fueled the start of an inning that led to three runs,” Pirates manager Jim Tracy said. “If we retire Nick Punto, it completely changes the top of the seventh, there’s no doubt in my mind. That put some life into them.”

To Cuddyer, the difference was the Twins became more selective at the plate.

“He was keeping the ball down, throwing fastballs and mixing in the slider, but we were able to wear him down at the end,” Cuddyer said. “He got the ball up, we stopped swinging at the balls in the dirt and we were able to get some hits off him.”

The Twins, winning their fifth in a row, added a run in the ninth when Pirates closer Mike Gonzalez walked pinch-hitter Rondell White with the bases loaded.

Liriano and reliever Juan Rincon combined to strike out 13—the second time in four days the Pirates struck out so many times. Chris Carpenter and three Cardinals relievers combined for 16 strikeouts in a 2-1 Pirates loss Tuesday.

“Offensively, we weren’t able to do a whole lot,” Tracy said. “The kid is real good and has been talked about a lot and deservedly so. Your margin for error when you’re matched up against a pitcher like that is slim to none.”

Joe Nathan pitched a perfect ninth for his ninth save in nine chances. Nathan needed only seven pitches to get through the inning after throwing 42 in two innings Thursday night to complete a 5-3 victory over Boston.

Snell hadn’t lost since being roughed up for seven runs and seven hits in 1 1-3 innings of an 8-2 defeat to Florida on May 14.

“I just didn’t execute my pitches in the seventh,” Snell said. “I tried to battle. Liriano’s a good pitcher—I pitched against him for two years (in the minors)—and he had his stuff working, and they came through with a few hits for him.”


Liriano’s previous best strikeout total was eight. … Tracy arrived at the ballpark shortly before the start of the game after attending his youngest son’s high school graduation Thursday in southern California. … The Twins have won seven of eight to edge closer to .500 at 32-34. … The Twins’ Jason Kubel failed to homer after doing so in three consecutive games. … Mauer raised his average to a major league-best .381 by going 2-for-4. … Wilson’s homer was his sixth, but his first since April 30. … The Twins won for only the 11th time in 35 road games.

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