MINNEAPOLIS – Minnesota Twins starter Francisco Liriano was cruising through the Oakland Athletics lineup Friday, looking as dominant as he did when he threw a no-hitter against the Chicago White Sox last season.
Then, Oakland's Johnny Gomes deposited his one bad pitch into the second deck in left field for a grand slam. In past cases, it would have been the beginning of the end for the enigmatic Liriano.
Not on Friday.
Liriano (3-8) recovered to retire 15 of the final 16 batters he would face and struck out a career-high 15 in Minnesota's 6-3 loss to the A's. Liriano's 15 strikeouts tied the MLB-high for this season and were the second most in Twins' history, trailing only the 17 Texas batters Johan Santana fanned at the Metrodome on Aug. 19, 2007.
"After that, I said to myself, 'You know, what's done is done. So, nothing I can do about it,'" Liriano said of getting past Gomes' ninth home run of the season. "Just go out there, throw strikes and make some good pitches and give my team the chance to win a ballgame. Not try to do too much right there."
Josh Willingham hit two home runs for Minnesota, which lost for the fifth time in six games. But Oakland rookie A.J. Griffin (1-0) went six innings to earn his first career win and lead the A's to their seventh victory in eight games.
After starting the season 0-5 with a 9.45 ERA and getting demoted to the bullpen, Liriano is 3-3 and has 76 strikeouts in 52 1-3 innings since rejoining the rotation on May 30. His 15 Ks equal the mark set by the White Sox's Chris Sale and Detroit's Max Scherzer this season.
Liriano (3-8) looked unhittable most of Friday. The inconsistent lefty used a diving slider and nasty changeup to fan eight of the first 10 hitters he faced and record nine of his first 10 outs via strikeout. He pitched eight innings, giving up four runs — three earned — and walked one.
"We all know what Frankie can do," Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire said. "His stuff, it's always been talked about. Now, I think, he's very confident. I think he trusts his stuff. He's very relaxed on the mound. I don't think he's letting a whole lot affect him. He gave up the grand slam, but he came right back after that for however many more innings, whatever it was, three more innings, four more innings and was just, boom, right there."
In the fourth, Jemile Weeks led off with a single up the middle that deflected off of Liriano. Shortstop Brian Dozier couldn't make the play running in on what was ruled a base hit, though Gardenhire felt the play could have been made. Two batters later center-fielder Denard Span dropped a fly ball with one out and Liriano walked the next batter to load the bases.
Gomes hit Liriano's next pitch into the second deck in left field, his first grand slam this season and third in his career.
"You've got to make the plays," Gardenhire said. "You should have been sitting in the dugout and it ends up Gomes coming up in a big situation and got a first pitch that kind of drifted in towards him, inner-half of the plate and he put it in the seats. That's what's disappointing. He should have been in the dugout. But Frankie was there all night. He was locked in."
Willingham hit both of his homers — his 20th and 21st — off Griffin. The slugger's second blast was a two-run shot that cut his former team's lead to 4-3 in the fourth.
Griffin got a little payback on Willingham in the fifth, striking him out on a slow changeup with two runners on to end the inning.
The A's added a couple of extra runs off Alex Burnett once Liriano was removed after eight innings. Ryan Cook struck out two in the ninth for his ninth save in 12 chances.
NOTES: Twins RHP Carl Pavano (shoulder) threw on Friday and is getting closer to throwing off a mound. He said the extended stint on the DL has been frustrating, especially as the Twins have struggled to find capable starting pitching. "I'm letting myself down," he said. "I'm letting everyone down around me." ... The Twins failed to sign ninth-round draft choice L.J. Mazzilli. The 2B and son of former major-league player and manager Lee Mazzilli will return to the University of Connecticut for his senior season. ... Liriano struck out 12 in a game twice during his rookie season in 2006. ... The start of the game was delayed 10 minutes because of rain. ... Cole De Vries makes his sixth career start for the Twins on Saturday. The right-hander is 2-1 with a 3.00 ERA. ... Tommy Milone (8-6) gets the start for Oakland on Saturday. The rookie is 2-1 with a 0.96 ERA over his last four starts.