Wednesday, May 04, 2011

The First Step

Charles Rex Arbogast, AP

What I'll remember was the smile.

The Twins haven't had much cause for smiling this year. Between the offensive incompetence, the pitching struggles, the constant fielding gaffes, the strange ailments, and the mounting losses, it's been a dire scene.

Francisco Liriano has had more to frown about than most. He had his name bandied about in trade rumors during an offseason in which he failed to come away with a long-term deal, and from the very onset of spring training he's run into nothing but trouble on the mound.

So when Liriano was mobbed by celebrating teammates after putting the finishing touches on last night's no-hitter, it was the grin on his face that really hit home. I've been one of the left-hander's biggest proponents, harshly criticizing the front office for failing to reach an extension with him over the winter, so I've been as upset -- and dumbfounded -- by his early struggles as anyone. To see him, and the team, finally experience a good break was heartwarming.

It wouldn't have been a stretch to say that Liriano was among the most unlikely pitchers in all the majors to deliver a no-no. In 204 professional starts between the majors and minors, he'd never before thrown a complete game. He had failed to record more than 15 outs in four of his five starts this year. His 9.13 ERA ranked as the second-worst in the majors. He'd battled severe command issues all season, and that continued into last night's outing as he issued six walks and threw only 66 of his 123 pitches for strikes.

To be sure, last night's momentous achievement did not signal a turnaround in the southpaw's troubling performance. He might have a badly slumping White Sox offense to thank as much as anything he did himself.

But he can also thank his teammates, and that's the biggest takeaway for this scuffling Twins club. Jason Kubel gave Liriano a lead to protect with a solo home run in the fourth. Danny Valencia made a spectacular stab-and-throw on a grounder down the line in the seventh. Justin Morneau made a great scoop on a throw in the dirt from Matt Tolbert in the ninth -- Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports tweeted that it was the first time this year Morneau has successfully executed a scoop. It was also perhaps the first time that we've truly seen this team come together.

A dreadful start to the season has had just about everyone in the clubhouse on edge. Last night, Liriano and the Twins finally got to smile. Remembering how to do that could be the first step toward getting things turned around.


Blizzy said...

On yesterdays post I did some bashing of my Twins, what a differance a night makes lol:

Absolutely amazing!! I was skeptical about this no hitter, to have 6 walks and only 2 K's but after pondering the hard it must be to no hit any professional MLB team. Congrats Frank, it's well deserved after a long road to recovery. I will have to admit that it is a bit humorous to have the worst team in baseball no hit the 2nd worst team in baseball. I'm hoping that this gets my team motivated enough to start getting the bats to work and put the historically worst April in Twins history behind us....


Marshall Garvey (MarshalltheIrish) said...

This has got to be one of the best feelings I've ever had after a single regular season victory. I've been tough on Liriano at times and haven't always had the same enthusiasm for him that you do, Nick, but man did he find the best way imaginable to move forward! Same goes for the team: The sight of them celebrating on the mound was unlike anything else this season, they seemed alive and proud for the first time.

And man, is there a better way to continue dominating our hated rivals?

Here's hoping it's all uphill from here on out.

cy1time said...

The sun does feel a little warmer this morning and maybe this will be a turning point, I hope so. But let's not forget that we managed only one run last night with the bats. If we don't score some runs, we're going to need a lot more shutouts to get back to
.500. Hopefully, this was all Butera rediscovereing his outstanding game calling skills, we're about to reel off a bunch of shutouts. Maybe then we can go back to ignoring his abysmal bat.

rghrbek said...

Revere and Plouffe up, Thome and Repko to DL.

Revere does not excite me (although better than Tosoni, w/ no pop). A poor man's Juan Pierre, which is the consensus it seems on the blogs...

We need another right handed bat, but Benson is the only position player (righty or lefty) in AA or AAA who really projects to be average and or above depressing.

That Gutierrez guy has gotten a lot of hype as a guy who will be a fixture in the twins's he doing this year? Garbage.

My point? Twins need to somehow go outside the organization to help this team...before it's too late, which means even more payroll. They won't.

I think the twins need to demote one of their catchers and bring up that Lehman guy. He's batting like .270, had a good spring training and can field. What's to lose? They can't go with those other pieces of crap...but they will...

I am glad to see frankie pitch well last night. It's good for the team, but more importantly good for frankie...We need him to be lights out, so we can trade him at the dead line or help the team get back into the race.

Matt said...

Successes and failures against the pale hose have often been turning points in the last ten or so seasons for the hometown nine. Hopefully this rings to be true this year. Let's at least take the series with this one, and go on from there to win some more series.

USAFChief said...

Liriano's 2011 XFIP prior to the no-no: 5.25. Liriano's 2011 XFIP after the no-no: 5.45.

rghrbek said...

looks like they are sending Holm down...which is good, but are debating between Rivera and Lehman...really?

It's got to be Lehman...

Ed Bast said...

So I didn't see any of the Sox series, but:

1) Awesome for Frankie - complete game, "big" game, only 2 K's (which is a good thing - don't need to strike everyone out). Good to see, to say the least.

2) Is the team's solution to the Casilla debacle really to move him to 2B and start Tolbert at SS? Men who get paid extremely well to make baseball decisions came up with this? My 4-yr old nephew could tell you that's the definition of "making the problem worse." Hey, while they're at it, maybe they should make Butera the DH and Holm/Rivera/Whoever can catch.

On a good note, I see the Twins solved the catching debacle once and for all by sending down Holm. Nick, satisfied?

Come on now, let's not get too drunk celebrating 2 wins vs. the only other team playing nearly as bad as us. Still have many problems the front office needs to fix.

Anonymous said...

The best part of Frankie's no-hitter was that he kept his head and just kept hammering away at the Sox. He might not have had his best stuff, but he didn't come unhinged and that was the best part. I totally take back what I said weeks ago about trading him. This might be the turnaround we have been waiting for, for Frankie and the rest of the team.