Coco Crisp: Strikeout swinging.
Rickie Weeks: Strikeout looking.
Josh Reddick: Strikeout swinging.
One. Two. Three.
“Phenomenal game by Frankie Liriano,” said skipper Ron Gardenhire after the game. “He deserved a lot better than he got."
Another potential trade asset played well too. Josh Willingham would hit two homers in the contest as well, but the Twins dropped the game 6-3.
“Willingham? What can you say about him?” Gardenhire continued. “A couple big times up there, a couple big home runs.
“We just couldn’t make plays tonight, and that’s the disappointing part of it.”
With the team 36-50 and presumably out of the playoff race, even with the additional postseason spot in the AL this season, the question for baseball fans in Minnesota is:
Did Liriano just increase his trade value, or do we need to keep all the high-end pitching we’ve got?
He did, of course, get a little help when breakout star Willingham drilled a homer to center in the second inning.
A critic would point out that his 20th bomb of the year would have counted for two had it come in the first inning. He was left at the plate when teammate Denard Span was caught in a rundown.
“That first at-bat helped me when Denard got picked off,” Willingham said, dismissing any animosity toward his teammate. “I kinda got into the at-bat, into the game early and saw a lot of pitches that helped me the rest of the game.”
Still, an early lead never hurts—even if it is only one run.
The K’s kept coming for Liriano.
Jonny Gomes: Fanned.
Derek Norris: K, 2-3.
Brandon Inge: K. Brandon Hicks: K. Crisp: K.
One. Two. Three.
Eight of his first 10 batters Liriano faced went back to the dugout with bat in hand and tail between the legs.
“Yeah, I felt alright tonight,” said the pitcher. “Everything was working, everything was down.”
In the third, after Liriano had his second one-two-three inning, Span once again reached base on a single…only to make another baserunning error.
This time Oakland shortstop Hicks snagged a liner from Ben Revere and Span couldn’t get back to first on time.
So as one tradable player’s stock went up, another fell.
Oh Twins, why can’t anything work out for you? Why can’t both tradable assets have a good night?
But even that couldn’t phase Liriano.
Reddick: Strikeout swinging. Liriano’s at a season-high 10 strikeouts.
The next batter, Yoenis Cespedes, advances to first when Span drops a routine fly ball in center.
“Span tried to get around it and got a little quick missed that play,” Gardenhire said, “and it ends up four runs in the inning.”
The floodgates were opened.
Liriano walked the next guy, Carter, and gave up a grand slam to Gomes.
If hitting is contagious, poor play must be too.
Perhaps Span’s two running errors and fielding error led got into Liriano’s head.
“Well, you’ve got to make the plays,” Gardenhire said. “He should have been sitting in the dugout.”
This is problematic, as Liriano’s weakness has never been his arm—it’s been his head.
Can he stay cool in unfavorable situations?
“I just said to myself: ‘What’s done is done and there’s nothing I can do about it.’” said Liriano of his mental approach.
Willingham helped ease his mind the next inning, hitting his second home run of the night, scoring himself and Joe Mauer.
He bound to stay in Minnesota, however.
Despite being 33 years of age and in the midst of a breakout season, Willingham is signed to a three-year, $21 million deal. The contract is club-favorable, and the Twins probably don’t want the reputation of signing a player and then trading him, even if his playing days are waning.
Before Willingham’s third at-bat, Griffin met at the mound with his pitching coach and catcher.
The meeting was rather quick. I can imagine the conversation went something like this:
Remember what you did the last two times AJ?
Don’t do that again.
Griffin didn’t. With a full count and two men on, Willingham swung at a breaking ball out of the zone for strike three.
Liriano went back to work.
Hicks: K in the fifth.
Carter: K in the sixth. Liriano has tied his career-high strikeout rate.
Norris: K in the seventh. Liriano hits a career high 13. The manual K count in left center runs out of room for Ks.
It’s fitting, of course, that this happens on Friday the 13th, as this could become a nightmare situation for the Twins: trade him and he becomes a superstar, keep him and he sloughs back to his old inconsistent self.
Hicks: K in the seventh. Now there are two K boards sitting on the railing of the US Bank Home Run Porch.
Crisp: K. Now he’s piling on. The Home Run Porch has run out of Ks.
Liriano left after the eighth inning with 112 pitches. Willingham drew a walk in his final at-bat.
Liriano and Willingham’s trade value went sky high in Game 1.
Will they be around at the end of the season?
Only time will tell.
All quotes were obtained first-hand.
Tom Schreier writes a weekly column for TheFanManifesto.com.
Follow him on Twitter @tschreier3.