MINNEAPOLIS The Minnesota Twins hope Francisco Liriano's return to the starting rotation will bolster their postseason push.
So far, so good: After Liriano's first major league action since April, the Twins have reclaimed first place in the AL Central.
Liriano, who missed all of last season after Tommy John surgery and struggled in three starts earlier this year, threw six scoreless innings on Sunday, helping the Twins to a 6-2 victory over the Cleveland Indians.
Denard Span and Brendan Harris homered for Minnesota, which moved a half-game ahead of the White Sox. Chicago lost 14-3 at Kansas City.
"Been a long time," Liriano said, when reminded that his last major league victory was also against the Indians, on July 23, 2006.
Indeed, it's been a long road back for the hard-throwing lefty from the Dominican Republic. Two seasons ago, he went 12-3 with a 2.16 ERA and 144 strikeouts before arm problems cut short his rookie year. After taking off last season, he went 0-3 with an 11.32 ERA in three starts before being sent down in April.
But Liriano dominated at Triple-A Rochester, going 10-0 with a 2.67 ERA in his last 11 starts, and was openly frustrated as the Twins waited until Friday to call him up.
Mike Redmond caught Liriano's previous major league start, when he gave up six runs in less than an inning at Oakland on April 24.
"Amazing transformation," Redmond said. "He's improved so much. ... His arm strength, you know it's not what it was before he first got hurt. But it was pretty close."
Cheered loudly by the announced crowd of 39,818 during starting lineup introductions, Liriano allowed three hits, walked three and struck out five against the Indians. He drew a standing ovation after striking out Ben Francisco to end the first.
"That settled me down a little bit," he said. "I was really nervous."
After breezing through two innings on 19 pitches, Liriano was tested in the third, facing a bases-loaded situation after two walks and a throwing error by shortstop Harris. Liriano threw 34 pitches in the inning but got Francisco swinging again to end the threat.
"We made him work a little bit there in the middle innings, but we didn't take advantage of it. That was really the difference for us," Indians manager Eric Wedge said.
Liriano threw 96 pitches. Jesse Crain relieved him in the seventh after the Twins pulled ahead 3-0. With his first win in more than two years out of the way, he can concentrate on settling back into his old role.
"That's a good start to having him back in the rotation," manager Ron Gardenhire said.
Span went 2-for-4, and Nick Punto and Mike Lamb each had run-scoring triples for Minnesota.
RAYS 6, TIGERS 5 (10 INNINGS): At St. Petersburg, Fla., Carl Crawford hit a tying RBI single in the 10th inning and Carlos Pena drew a game-ending, bases-loaded walk to give AL East-leading Tampa Bay a victory. Tampa Bay took advantage of Fernando Rodney's wildness to put together the winning rally. Eric Hinske led off with a walk, bringing Jason Bartlett to the plate. Bartlett squared to bunt and left when Rodney (0-3) plunked him on his right hand. Shawn Riggans batted for Bartlett, and Rodney hit him with the next pitch. Both runners advanced on Akinori Iwamura's sacrifice and B.J. Upton walked before Crawford hit a tying single into left field. One out later, Pena won it when took a 3-2 pitch to force in the winning run. Rodney has blown four of his five save chances. Trever Miller (1-0) got the final two outs in the 10th for the Rays, completing a three-hitter.
YANKEES 14, ANGELS 9: At New York, Xavier Nady homered and had a career-high six RBIs, rallying New York past sloppy Los Angeles in a wild, back-and-forth game. Mark Teixeira hit a go-ahead grand slam in the eighth inning for his first home run with Los Angeles, but New York took advantage of uncharacteristically poor defense by the Angels to score six times in the bottom half and complete its largest comeback of the season. Ivan Rodriguez hit his first homer for the Yankees, starting their improbable rally from a five-run deficit against ace John Lackey. New York scored 10 unearned runs in its final two at-bats as the Angels matched a season high with four errors.
ROYALS 14, WHITE SOX 3: At Kansas City, Mo., Mike Aviles went 4-for-4 with a home run, Zack Greinke pitched well into the seventh inning, and Kansas City defeated Chicago in a game featuring five ejections. There was a bench-clearing brawl in the fifth inning when Royals catcher Miguel Olivo was hit by a pitch from D.J. Carrasco and charged the mound. Olivo, Carrasco and White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen were sent to the clubhouse once order was restored.
Greinke (9-7) held the White Sox to three hits and no runs the first six innings, then allowed two runs in the seventh before hitting Nick Swisher with a pitch. Greinke was ejected along with Royals manager Trey Hillman.
RED SOX 5, ATHLETICS 2: At Boston, Jed Lowrie's two-run triple highlighted a three-run fourth inning that helped Daisuke Matsuzaka to his 12th win and Boston completed a three-game sweep. Matsuzaka (12-2), allowed two runs, four hits, walked two and struck out eight in six innings.
Daric Barton hit a two-run homer for the Athletics, who lost their sixth straight and 15th in 17 games.
Dallas Braden (2-2) took the loss for the Athletics.
RANGERS 8, BLUE JAYS 4: At Arlington, Texas, Gerald Laird homered twice and drove in four runs as Texas beat Toronto. Laird had his third career multihomer game, second this season, with two-run shots in the fourth and fifth innings.
Texas starter Luis Mendoza (3-4) recovered from a three-run first inning to allow four runs and six hits in seven innings. Mendoza struck out two and walked one in his 12th major league start, retiring his final nine batters.
Rookie Chris Davis also homered for the Rangers, his 11th in 33 games.
Toronto starter David Pursey (1-2) allowed only three hits in five innings, but all three were homers as he gave up five runs. Pursey struck out four and walked two in his fourth major league start.
MARINERS 8, ORIOLES 4: At Seattle, Raul Ibanez's two-run single off reliever Jamie Walker capped a three-run seventh inning to help Seattle snap a seven-game home losing streak.
Ibanez finished with three RBIs as the Mariners avoided being swept at home by the Orioles for the first time since 1997.
J.J. Putz (3-4) pitched 1 1-3 scoreless innings for the victory, as he continues working back into form after missing more than a month with a hyperextended right elbow.
Daniel Cabrera (7-7) allowed six earned runs and struck out six in six innings.
DODGERS 9, DIAMONDBACKS 3: At Los Angeles, Manny Ramirez finished off his first series with the Dodgers on a tear, going 4-for-5 with a homer and three RBIs, cutting Arizona's lead to one game in the NL West. The Dodgers sliced Arizona's NL West lead to one game. Ramirez went deep in the fifth for career homer No. 512, passing Mel Ott and moving into a tie with Eddie Mathews and Ernie Banks for 20th place. Ramirez is 8-for-13 with five RBIs in three games since Thursday's three-way trade with Boston and Pittsburgh.
Cory Wade (2-1) worked 1 2-3 innings to get the win.
Doug Davis (4-6) retired only five of the 13 batters he faced, allowing five runs and six hits over 1 2-3 innings after pitching 7 2-3 scoreless innings at San Diego on Tuesday.
ASTROS 4, METS 0: At Houston, Ty Wigginton homered and Houston completed its first three-game sweep of the Mets since September 1993. Hunter Pence and Humberto Quintero added RBI doubles and Randy Wolf (7-10) won his home debut for the Astros.
Jose Valverde shut out the Mets in the ninth. Houston's bullpen did not allow a run in 11 innings in the series.
New York has dropped four in a row and was shut out for the fourth time this season.
Oliver Perez (7-7) took John Maine's place in the rotation on Sunday and lost for only the second time in seven starts.
ROCKIES 3, MARLINS 2: At Miami, pinch-hitter Seth Smith drove in the winning run with a single in the ninth inning, lifting Colorado. Florida reliever Joe Nelson walked Chris Iannetta to lead off the ninth. Iannetta was replaced by pinch-runner Cory Sullivan, who stole second. Nelson (2-1) intentionally walked Brad Hawpe, then Smith singled up the middle to score Sullivan and give the Rockies their first lead.
Taylor Buchholz (4-3) picked up the win. and closer Brian Fuentes retired Jorge Cantu and Josh Willingham with the bases loaded in the ninth for his 20th save in 24 chances.
BRAVES 5, BREWERS 0: At Atlanta, Jorge Campillo shut out Milwaukee for seven innings and Atlanta beat Ben Sheets and the Brewers to avoid a series sweep. Sheets (10-5) gave up six hits, including four doubles, and three runs with three walks and four strikeouts in six innings. He gave up only two earned runs but fell to 1-4 in seven starts since a dominant 4-1 complete-game victory in Atlanta on June 24.
The loss snapped the Brewers' nine-game road winning streak, which tied for the longest in franchise history.
Campillo (6-4) improved to 3-0 in his past five starts.
NATIONALS 4, REDS 2: At Washington, the Nationals completed only its second sweep of the year, jumping ahead with a four-run first inning in a victory. Rookie Collin Balester (2-3) allowed one run in 5 1/3 innings and Lastings Milledge hit his ninth home run for the Nationals. , who were mired in a nine-game losing streak before outscoring the Reds 19-10 over three games. Austin Kearns had three hits against his former team.
Johnny Cueto (7-11) took the loss for the Reds.
CUBS 8, PIRATES 5: At Chicago, Reed Johnson and Alfonso Soriano hit back-to-back homers in the eighth, and Chicago escaped with a victory over Pittsburgh after blowing a three-run lead in the top half of the inning. The home runs lifted the Cubs to their seventh win in eight games. Chicago (67-45) moved 22 games above .500 for the first time since 1989.
Chad Gaudin (3-1) got the win even though he allowed the tying two-run homer to Andy LaRoche in the eighth.
Craig Hansen (0-1) took the loss for Pittsburgh.
PADRES 4, GIANTS 1: At San Diego, Greg Maddux drove in a run and pitched six strong innings for his 352nd career victory, leading San Diego. Maddux (5-8) won his second straight after having gone through a career-high 14-game winless streak since victory No. 350 on May 10 against Colorado. Trevor Hoffman earned career save No. 547.
The 42-year-old Maddux allowed one run on two hits and retired the final 10 batters he faced before Mike Adams, Heath Bell and Trevor Hoffman finished the combined four-hitter.
Hoffman pitched the ninth inning for his 23rd save in 26 chances and career save No. 547.
Kevin Correia (2-6) took the loss for San Francisco.
PHILLIES 5, CARDINALS 4: At St. Louis, Shane Victorino's three-run homer capped a four-run eighth inning against a vulnerable Cardinals bullpen, and Philadelphia's Brad Lidge survived a shaky ninth to stay perfect in save situations. Chase Utley added his 28th homer for the Phillies.
Troy Glaus homered off the left-field foul pole to start the ninth against Lidge. The Cardinals then loaded the bases with one out. But Lidge wriggled off the hook by striking out rookies Nick Stavinoha and Joe Mather for his 28th save in 28 chances, and 31st in a row dating to Sept. 25, 2007, at Cincinnati.
Chad Durbin (4-2) got the victory despite allowing a run on two hits and a walk in one inning.
Ryan Ludwick hit his fourth homer in eight at-bats and Todd Wellemeyer threw four-hit ball into the seventh for the Cardinals.