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Francisco Liriano’s night to remember (and maybe forget)

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“2011 Vibes” aren’t all bad

BBA-TWINS-CHISOX Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

An oft-used phrase to describe the 2021 Twins season thus far has been “2011 vibes”. Seeing as how that decade-ago club lost 99 games, it isn’t exactly a term of endearment. On the night of May 3, 2011, however, some history was made:

Here in Twins Territory, Francisco Liriano is always going to be one of the great “what ifs” in franchise history. In 2006, he burst into the starting rotation with perhaps the most un-hittable slider the game had ever seen. On a staff featuring peak Johan Santana, Frankie still had the best “stuff”. Sadly, as is the MN sports way, Liriano blew out his arm late in August and ended up undergoing Tommy John surgery.

DAVID BREWSTER • dbrewster@startribune.com Sunday_7/2/06_Mpls - - - - - - TWINS vs. BREWERS - - - - Twins pitcher Francisco Liriano pitching in the 1st inning against the Brewers #23 Richie Weeks Jr. Weeks was hit with this pitch, and walked.
Vintage ‘06 Liriano—good luck hitting that
Photo by DAVID BREWSTER/Star Tribune via Getty Images

After missing all of ‘07 and most of ‘08, Liriano struggled mightily in 2009. He finally got back on track in ‘10, but started ‘11 like most of that year’s team—horribly. Coming into the May 3 contest in Chicago’s then-U.S. Cellular Field, the Twins were 9-18 on the young season and the Cisco Kid was 1-4 with a 9.13 ERA. Both the team and the player were looking for some kind—any kind—of boost to potentially jump-start the defending AL Central champs.

When Liriano walked the first batter—Juan Pierre—it had all the makings of “here we go again”. But inducing Adam Dunn to ground into a double play ended that early threat. In the second, Liriano free-passed Carlos Quentin, but again cajoled a twin-killing off the bat of Alex Rios.

In the top of the fourth inning, the Twins gave their starter a modicum of breathing room, with Jason Kubel taking White Sox starter Edwin Jackson deep. Liriano’s response? Walk two more batters in the bottom of the frame—but wriggle out of trouble again.

BBA-TWINS-CHISOX
“Kubes” (as broadcaster Morneau affectionately refers to him) gives the Twins the lead.
Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

As the scoreless frames continued to pile up through the middle innings, another goose egg became even more noticeable—the one in the “H” column for Chicago. Though clearly not possessing any sort of command, Liriano was also not allowing any clean bat-to-ball hits. Unfortunately, the Twins were during little better off ChiSox hurlers.

Still 1-0 in the bottom of the 8th, Liriano threw four wide ones to Ramon Castro—then immediately got Gordon Beckham to bounce into a 5-4-3 DP. After the Twins again went down weakly in the ninth, Francisco walked back out to the mound looking to seal the deal.

With one out, Pierre was again given the four-ball treatment—Liriano’s sixth walk of the evening. But after Alexei Ramirez popped out, the Twins starter was one out away from the no-no. With the count at 3-2 (because of course it was) to Dunn, the burly slugger ripped a liner to short...

Watching this game on TV, my immediate thought was “noooooooooooo!!!”. Dunn’s line drive looked for all the world like a clean base hit. But miraculously, as you can see, Matt Tolbert was positioned perfectly and the ball found his glove like a heat-seeking missile. After 123 pitches—only 66 of them strikes—and just two strikeouts, Francisco Liriano’s name would forever be in the record books.

According to Baseball Reference, there have been 251 somewhat-verifiable no-hitters or perfect games since 1901. Using Bill James’ game score metric, Max Scherzer’s 2015 no-hitter ranks highest on that list, with a game score of 104. Somewhat surprisingly, Eric Milton’s 1999 no-no against the Anaheim b-squad is #20. Liriano? Number 245 (game score: 83). In other words, one of the least-impressive, impressive feats in major league history.

That night would represent the last hurrah for Frankie in a Twins uniform. After finishing ‘11 with a 5.00+ ERA, he stayed in that range into 2012 until he was traded to the Pale Hose—of all teams—for Eduardo Escobar and Pedro Hernandez.

But for that one shining night in Chicago, Liriano was unhittable—even if it was a “worst of the best” type of performance.

BBA-TWINS-CHISOX Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images