Baseball fans sitting in Section 114 of Target Field will pass a sign that has a picture of Francisco Liriano.
Decked out in a TC hat and pinstriped uniform, Liriano is in his windup, ready to unleash a pitches.
But on Tuesday night, when those fans find their seats and get settled, they will look across the outfield into the bullpen. In the high bullpen, the one closest to the standing room only section, is Nick Blackburn warming up for his start. In the lower bullpen is…
Isn’t that the guy in the picture for Section 114?
Out of the dugout came Liriano. Not the dugout with Twins written across it, but the one with the Major League Baseball logo.
He wears grey and black—the colors of the enemy.
He wears No. 58 not No. 47.
And he casually throws pitches to AJ Pierzynski, the player he, along with Joe Nathan and Boof Bonser, were traded for in 2003.
“It was definitely strange seeing him in a different uniform,” said Blackburn.
Nobody booed Liriano. In fact, nobody in the crowd seemed to acknowledge his presence.
The first batter he faced was Denard Span—another player in the rumor mill, only he stayed put in Minnesota.
“I’m just going to go home and relax,” said Span, who admitted to having nerves around the trade deadline. “I know where I’m going to be, at least for a little bit.”
Liriano’s first pitch as a member of the White Sox was a ball.
Good ol’ Frankie.
Span singles to right.
“Standing in that box,” said Span, “it looked a lot different than standing out there in center field watching him, man.”
The next batter was Darin Mastroianni. He hit directly at the second baseman, who flipped it back to first for a double play.
Mauer struck out.
We’ve been through this before.
When Delmon Young was traded to Detroit last year it came in the middle of a Twins-Tigers series last year. He literally was sitting in Twins gear one day and Tigers garb the next.
But he wasn’t a franchise player.
Liriano entered the second inning with his team up 1-0.
Blackburn had a one-two-three first inning (“The sinker is sinking!” yelled out season ticket holder Jake Nyberg). But in the second he hit a hiccup.
Alex Rios scored on a Dayan Viciedo pop-fly before Minnesota recorded their third out (“The sinker is no longer sinking!”).
Liriano struck out Willingham but walked Morneau.
Doumit lined out and Valencia goes down looking.
In the dugout, Liriano throws a towel over his back and receives high-fives from multiple teammates. The third base coach, Joe McEwing, smacks him on the behind.
McEwing wears No. 47.
Liriano earned the nickname “Franchise” after his breakout 2006 campaign and was expected to be the Twins’ ace for the rest of his career.
Then came Tommy John surgery and the subsequent roller coaster ride that pitching coach Rick Anderson says gave him grey hair.
“The Franchise” became “The Enigma.”
Another one-two-three inning for Blackburn and Liriano was quickly back to work.
Liriano fell behind Brian Dozier, but got him to fly out to center.
Liriano fell behind Jamey Carroll, the nine hitter, and walked him.
Liriano threw to Konerko at first twice. It is the first time he is booed.
Span got a single off of him, putting men on first and second for Mastroianni.
Span was the only man with a hit to that point. He is 2-for-2.
Mastroianni flew out to center, allowing Carroll to advance to third.
With men on the corners, Span stole second on the Liriano/Pierzynski tandem but Mauer struck out looking. The hometown hero argues with the umpire Mike Muchlinski before returning to the dugout.
Liriano has struck him out twice tonight: once swinging and once looking.
Following a trade over the weekend, the man who put up 25 strikes in his last two outings in Target Field—so many the strikeout board on the Home Run Porch couldn’t hold all of the K slates—is now a member of the archrival White Sox.
Overnight “The Enigma” became “The Enemy.”
Willingham: Gone looking.
Morneau: Lineout to left.
Doumit: Strikeout swinging.
“The guy’s got an electric arm,” said Mastroianni. “When he’s on, he’s on.”
At the end of the fourth a lone K sat on the strikeout board: it faced forward.
It represents the time Blackburn got Adam Dunn, the league’s strikeout leader, swinging in the first.
Liriano has six strikeouts so far.
If he were a Twin, the board would be half full: three facing forward, three facing backwards.
Another one-two-three inning for Blackburn and Liriano was back to work. He hung three strikes on Valencia right away, but then threw three straight balls. The sixth pitch was hit sky-high and landed in Ramirez’s glove.
Dozier struck out and Carroll lined out to center.
The inning is over.
Liriano has thrown 85 pitches. Blackburn has thrown 60.
“Blackie matched him pitch for pitch,” said manager Ron Gardenhire.
Blackburn got Dunn swinging to complete a one-two-three inning.
Liriano went back to work.
Span: Strike out swinging.
At this time Philip Humber, a former Twin, entered the White Sox bullpen, when Liriano was at 92 pitches.
Mastroianni: Infield single. Then he stole second and third base.
“I knew as soon as I got on I was going from first to second and second to third on him,” said the speedy outfielder.
“I’ve seen Frankie pitch enough. I knew if I got on I could run on him.”
Mauer: Walk (no complaints this time).
Now Span had two straight hits but also a strikeout, and Mauer has two straight strikeouts and a single.
With men on the corners and The Outfield blaring from the Target Field speakers, Liriano fell behind Willingham who took ball four.
The Chicago pitching coach came to the mound, but this time it was Don Cooper (another former Twin) not Rick Anderson who has to deal with Liriano’s predicament.
And with the bases loaded and one out, Morneau hit to Konerko, who missed the base and after a long meeting between umpires, Mastroianni scored on a Konerko throwing error.
Game tied at one.
“No one had any clue where that ball hit,” said Gardenhire. “[The umpires] didn’t know. I was guessing. I thought it hit the netting or the cameral well…the poles are in play, but the nets are supposed to be dead.”
And Liriano was still in a predicament and now he had to deal with an error.
Doumit popped out to third, but Liriano fell behind Valencia and allowed him to reach on an infield single.
Twins are up 2-1.
Liriano was up to 110 pitches as Nate Jones took over for Humber in the bullpen.
Dozier flew out at the warning track in left to end the inning.
Liriano returned to the dugout. He would not return for the rest of the game.
Good ol’ Liriano.
This is the guy we know.
There is a lot of controversy over the Liriano trade and reasonably so. He’s a guy with great stuff and we only have two ‘C’ prospects in return.
There’s no telling how they turn out.
Bonser was the linchpin in the San Francisco trade back in 2003, but it was Nathan and Liriano that became superstars in the Twin Cities.
Maybe Eduardo becomes a cornerstone second baseman, rounding out the infield.
Maybe Pedro Hernandez becomes an ace on a rotation that returns the Twins to respectability.
But it’s not like there weren’t question marks about Liriano.
Twins GM Terry Ryan said that there were no extension talks between the Twins and Liriano’s people.
And even so, what’s to say that Liriano doesn’t resort to his old self—leaving balls up and allowing hitters to knock them into the C Ramp behind center field.
Maybe the best name for Liriano isn’t “The Franchise” or “The Enigma” or “The Enemy.”
It was a ballsy move by Ryan to send Liriano to a division rival, but if he unravels the rest of the season like he did tonight, there will be a very fitting name for ol’ Frankie:
“The Trojan Horse.”
Blackburn ran into trouble in the seventh.
He got Konerko and Rios, but hit Pierzynski, allowed Viciedo to single to center and Ramirez scored Pierzynski to tie the game.
Pierzynski yelled out “Let’s hit the piece of sh*t,” as he crossed the plate.
Beckham grounded out to short to end the inning. Apparently he didn’t get the memo.
Fittingly, it was yet another former Twin, Jesse Crain, that started the seventh.
“They’ve got a few over there,” said Gardenhire of former Twins now on the White Sox. “I’m sure they want more.”
Mauer and Willingham had a chance to take the lead with Crain on the mound, but the former flied out on the left field warning track and the latter popped out to first in foul territory.
Blackburn went eight innings. His longest outing this year before last night was 6.2 innings.
“He looked real good,” said Span. “That’s the Blackburn I’m used to seeing there.”
With Rios on base and nobody out, Pierzynski took Grey deep to right to put the Sox up by two.
Grey got the next three batters out, but the damage was done.
Cue the Eminem.
Ben Revere enters the game as a pinch hitter for Dozier and singled to right, extending his hitting streak to 14 games (a career high).
Carroll works it to a full count and grounds out to second, but advances Revere.
A Span RBI single brings in Revere, but Mastroianni strikes out making it the bottom of the ninth.
And the hometown kid at the plate and a man on first.
Everyone in Target Field was on their feet.
And… he grounded out to first.
It always hurts to lose, but at least the series is fun again.
And, hey, Ryan may have placed a Horse in the pennant race.
All quotes were obtained first-hand.
Tom Schreier writes a weekly column for TheFanManifesto.com.
Follow him on Twitter @tschreier3.