I love it when that happens.
Francisco Liriano pitched the best he has in what seems like a long time, notching four 1-2-3 innings en route to his two-run, seven-inning performance. His only base runner through the first four innings was a walk, but the most important storyline for Cisco today was his effort during a rough fifth inning.
St. Louis kicked off the bottom of the fifth by notching two doubles on as many pitches, before a Jason LaRue single made it three hits on three pitches. The inning was literally just seconds old, and the Cardinals were scorching Liriano; two runs had scored.
Liriano drew Cards starter Joel Pineiro next, which may have been fortunate. After getting Pineiro, Liriano fought off Tyler Green and Skip Schumaker for the second and third outs to end the inning to effectively end the scoring for the day. It was an ugly start to the inning to be sure, but to see him settle down and focus, and then to keep it up for two more innings, was one of the most encouraging things we've seen from Liriano all season. For the day, Cisco struck out six over seven innings while walking a pair and surrendering just four hits. The 97 pitches he threw (64 for strikes) over seven is infinitely more effective than the 117 over five that he threw the last time out.
Pineiro, meanwhile, was largely as-advertised. He walked nobody, and while he gave up eight hits over his six-plus innings the biggest one came in the first. After Denard Span reached on a throwing error and Joe Mauer singled, Justin Morneau launched his 17th home run of the year. Pineiro had worked him away the entire at-bat, until he came inside with a 2-2 fastball.
Justin went boom.
The 3-0 lead would be enough for the win in the end, but the offense wasn't done. An RBI by Brendan Harris and a pair by Jason Kubel solidified the offensive effort. R.A. Dickey made it interesting in the ninth before Joe Nathan came in to put out the fire, but the score held and the Twins walk away series winners once again. Minnesota is 14-11 in June, including a 9-7 road record.
If the Twins can continue at this pace they'll still be in the picture come September, but they still need to put something together to get themselves into a better position for the sprint to the finish. They have three in Kansas City before a day off, then nine home games lead into the All-Star break. The Yankees, Tigers and White Sox will be in town. Winning two of three means an 8-4 run, giving Minnesota a palatable 47-42 record going into the break.
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Stars of the Game
#3: Jason Kubel (3-for-4, 2B, RBI, .075 WPA)
#2: Justin Morneau (1-for-4, HR, 3 RBI, R, .101 WPA)
#1: Francisco Liriano (7 IP, 4 H, 2 BB, 6 K, 2 R, .213 WPA)