In 155 2/3 innings at first base this season, Justin Morneau(notes) hadn't scooped a single ball out of the dirt successfully. So when a throw landed 3 feet in front of him and bounced toward his chest with only the first no-hitter of 2011 riding on it, he picked a rather opportune time to record one.
One out later, the worst pitcher in the American League in April finished the greatest individual feat in baseball this season. Francisco Liriano(notes) – the Minnesota Twins' ace last year, their most frustrating performer this year – finally played Dr. Jekyll in holding the Chicago White Sox hitless during a 1-0 victory.
Francisco Liriano pitched a no-hitter against the White Sox.
Francisco Liriano became the sixth pitcher during the past two years to toss a no-hitter, and the 270th in history.
* Perfect games
In issuing six walks and striking out just two over the 123-pitch performance, it was one of the least dominant no-hitters in baseball history. Plenty have lacked aesthetics, though, and Liriano threw the Twins' first in almost a dozen years and baseball's first since the Year of the Pitcher, which saw six.
Combined with all of the other forces at play – Liriano had never thrown a shutout or complete game, let alone a no-hitter, and the Twins entered Tuesday's game with the worst record in the major leagues – the no-hitter ranks among the more improbable in recent history.
And yet that can be said for nearly any no-hitter, because each takes a confluence of stuff and luck. In Liriano's case, it was almost all luck. Just 11 previous no-hitters featured two or fewer strikeouts. For so many batted balls to end up in gloves is nothing short of amazing, not when 30 percent of them usually fall to the ground. Especially with the Twins, who were trying out a new shortstop, Matt Tolbert(notes), after the Alexi Casilla(notes) experiment there failed.
Tolbert, it turned out, nearly blew the night with his throw that handcuffed Morneau. He got bailed out, then finished the game by catching Adam Dunn's(notes) line drive right at him, setting off a celebration that feted Liriano.
His previous start was such a disaster the Twins were considering dropping him from the rotation, a stark threat to a pitcher who last year started the first game of their playoff series and struck out 201 in 191 2/3. Shoulder problems during spring training worried the Twins, and Liriano's 9.13 ERA with 46 baserunners allowed in 23 2/3 innings gave them even more reason for concern.
The antidote: A White Sox lineup hitting .236. The batting averages in Chicago's lineup looked more like weights: .157, .187, .208, .248, .250. Ugliness abounded. Three double plays. Five pop-ups.
"That's the way we roll, I guess," White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said.
Liriano himself wasn't rolling, per se. His fastball sat around 92 mph, about 2 mph off from last season, and he had no discernible command, not with 57 balls against 66 strikes. He walked Juan Pierre(notes) in the ninth and had Dunn facing a 3-0 count in what turned out to be the final at-bat. He fought back, took advantage of Dunn's incapacity against left-handed pitching and grabbed a smile before his teammates mobbed him.
They tried to stand by Liriano through his rough start. "He'll figure it out," Twins closer Matt Capps(notes) said earlier this week. He was warming up in the bullpen in the ninth anyway, just in case Liriano gave up a hit, because it's not like he was blowing away the White Sox.
[Related: Liriano deserves to enjoy the moment]
A no-hitter is, of course, a no-hitter, and Liriano won't apologize for his. Two days ago, he met with Twins pitching coach Rick Anderson. He was looking for advice. Something. Anything.
"He told me to pitch how I know how to pitch," Liriano said.
And he did. One unsightly inning at a time, nearly a ball for every strike, with a whole lot of luck – and the 270th no-hitter in baseball history.
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