Two innings. Two great innings. Two amazing, dominating innings of one-hit baseball against a division winner.
Unfortunately, a starting pitcher seeing his first action in over a month doesn't want to just pitch two great innings.
In today's game against the Oakland A's, The Minnesota Twins' Francisco Liriano walked off the field after feeling pain in his elbow the minute he threw a breaking ball in the dirt to batter Bobby Kielty, his eighth batter of the game. Up to that point Liriano pitched two perfect innings before allowing a base hit to Nick Swisher.
The left-handed rookie sensation was shelved on Aug. 8 with a strained arm ligament, but his team barely missed a beat since that fateful transaction. The Twins are 20-14 since Liriano was put on the disabled list and went from pork-rind-sized 9-1/2 games behind the Detroit Tigers to a Baked Lays-thin 1-1/2.
But here's what confuses me. The AP wire photo came with the caption, "Minnesota Twins starting pitcher Francisco Liriano reacts after injuring his leg in the third inning …" And as we can see, he's clutching his leg or his knees. There's little to clutch with a painful arm. But the official word out of Twins' headquarters said he experienced elbow pain.
Leg … and elbow?
As he left the field the concerned crowd gave him a standing O. Then Matt Garza — another young'un who was actually called up when Liriano's absence opened up a roster spot — made a spectacular emergency relief appearance that stretched into the eighth inning, allowing just one run. However, the Twins were blanked and Oakland won 1-0. Garza undeservedly earned the loss.
I'm not sure how this will affect the Twins' pennant run. Even during Liriano's absence from the Twins, they played like the strongest team in the division as they surpassed the Chicago White Sox for second place and gained mad ground against the Tigers. In short, they were doing pretty good for themselves sans Liriano.
In fact, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said that Liriano will not pitch again this year. That means his starting rotation is on borrowed time. Even with Cy Young shoe-in and MVP candidate Johan Santana (yeah, I said it — MVP) winning the rest of his games, Brad Radke remains hurt and the rest of the rotation features Garza, Boof Bonser, Matt Guerrier and Scott Baker. If they hang onto the Wild Card (or better), a playoff rotation of Santana, Garza and Bonser doesn't sound too threatening.
The team had all the momentum in the world, but the wind behind their sails might have died down a skosh after seeing their young pitcher struck down 28 pitches into his return. We shall see if Gardenhire and his small market cabal can live without Liriano well into October. If they make it there.