There are 12 spots to place a strikeout K on the Home Run Porch in left field. Francisco Liriano filled 10 of those spots in his first start following his 15-strikeout outing on Friday the 13th, but also gave up a two-run bomb to Adam Jones in the first inning in a 2-1 loss.
“He got a pretty good swing on that pitch,” said Liriano, “it wasn’t a bad pitch at all.”
And then progressed to strike out Matt Wieters and Mark Reynolds.
One inning. Two Ks. One home run. But something has changed in the mercurial pitcher’s cranium.
“Before it would have gotten in my head a lot,” he said of the Jones’ homer, “but not right now. I’m just trying to stay focused and whatever happens, happens.”
Despite walking the first batter in the second, Steve Pearce, Liriano struck out Wilson Betemit looking and Taylor Teagarden swinging and forced Steve Tolleson to ground out to end the inning.
Once again in the third the first batter, Nick Markakis, reached base in the third and once again the next two batters, Hard and Jones, stuck out and Wieters grounded out.
Four Ks on the board with the third facing backward. He had eight spots to fill.
The Twins put multiple runners on base against O’s starter Tommy Hunter in the first and third innings, but Joe Mauer and Ben Revere both hit into a double play.
“[Hunter] was using both sides of the plate,” said Scott Ullger, the acting manager on Wednesday after Ron Gardenhire left with a stomach virus
“Obviously he was hitting his spots.”
In the fourth Liriano would strike out Betemit and Teagarden again.
Only four spots remained on the strikeout board.
Willingham provided a little support in the fourth with a bomb that landed in the bullpen.
Liriano reached his 10th strikeout in the sixth when he struck out Wieters and Reynolds again. Babe Plouffe made a barehanded throw to end the inning to beat Betemit with Pearce on first.
Twins mounted an attack on Hunter in the bottom of the seventh, but pinch hitter Ryan Doumit (in for Drew Butera) would pop out with Willingham and Plouffe on first and second.
In the eight Mauer came to bat with the table setters, Span and Revere, on first and second and one out, but grounded out to second. Willingham was intentionally walked and Morneau had to face a lefty…
He grounded out to a conveniently placed shortstop near the first baseman leaving the bases loaded.
“We had some opportunities to score some runs,” said Ullger. “They made some good pitches on us.”
Bottom of the ninth.
Plouffe singles to right.
Reynolds snags Dozier’s bunt mid-air with a diving catch.
Doumit grounds into a fielder’s choice at second.
Carroll grounds out to third.
“It’s execution time and we didn’t execute,” continued Ullger. “Kid made a nice play, but still you can’t pop that bunt up.”
There were only two spots left on the strikeout board at the end of Liriano’s night.
They could have easily been filled with question marks:
Will he be traded?
“I’m trying not to listen to them,” said Liriano addressing the trade rumors. “I haven’t even called my agent asking about it.”
And, if not, can we win when he pitches like this?
“What can I say?” he asked rhetorically. “Every time I go out I just do everything I can to win a ballgame.”
All quotes were obtained first-hand.
Tom Schreier writes a weekly column for TheFanManifesto.com.
Follow him on Twitter @tschreier3.