Pierzynski's homer in ninth sinks Twins
MINNEAPOLIS — For Minnesota Twins fans, Tuesday night's game was a bit like a reunion — and not the happy kind.
A pair of former Twins — Francisco Liriano and Jesse Crain — pitched the first seven innings for the Chicago White Sox, and another ex-Twin — catcher A.J. Pierzynski — hit a winning two-run homer in the ninth as Chicago snapped Minnesota's four-game winning streak in a 4-3 victory.
After Alex Rios singled off Jeff Gray (5-1), Pierzynski hit a 0-2 pitch into the right field bleachers for his second homer in as many nights.
Matt Thornton (3-6) pitched a 1-2-3 eighth for the win.
Addison Reed allowed an RBI single to Denard Span, who had four hits, in the bottom of the ninth but still earned his 17th save in 20 chances.
In his first start with the White Sox, Liriano, who was traded from Minnesota to Chicago late Saturday for infielder Eduardo Escobar and left-hander Pedro Hernandez, allowed two earned runs and four hits in six innings.
With his fastball regularly in the low-to-mid 90s and his slider and changeup staying away from Minnesota hitters, Liriano walked four and struck out eight, including Joe Mauer and Josh Willingham twice each.
"Our hitters were coming back in and saying, 'He is nasty,' " said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire. "We've played behind him but facing him our hitters were saying he threw some balls that were disappearing tonight, so tip your hat to him."
Mauer was caught looking at an inside pitch with two runners in scoring position in the third, leading the All-Star catcher to exchange words with home plate umpire Mike Muchlinski.
Although the Twins were getting deep in the count, Liriano allowed just two hits through five innings before the Twins got to him for two runs in the sixth.
With one out, Darin Mastroianni hit a dribbler up the first base line and stole second and third. Walks to Mauer and Willingham loaded the bases for Justin Morneau, who hit a chopper to first base. Paul Konerko fielded the ball, but failed to step on the bag for the forceout and his throw home was wide of the plate, allowing Mastroianni to score.
Danny Valencia followed with a single that was stopped by a diving Alexei Ramirez at shortstop, but he could not make a throw. Brian Dozier nearly hit a grand slam the next at-bat, but the ball was caught on the warning track by Dayan Viciedo in left field.
"Standing in that box it looks a lot different than standing out there in center field watching him," said Span, who went 4-for-5. "His slider is really good. Coming out of his hand it looks like a fastball and it's tough to lay off of."
An RBI single by Ramirez scored Pierzynski to tie the game 2-2 in the seventh.
There was polite applause from the fans when Liriano's name was announced but the crowd had no reaction when Liriano came out for the bottom of the first.
Liriano came in with a 50-52 record and 4.33 ERA in his career. But so much more was expected of the enigmatic left-hander, who went 12-3 in 2006 as a rookie with a 2.16 ERA and 144 strikeouts in 121 innings.
He underwent reconstructive elbow surgery later that year and has been inconsistent since.
Minnesota starter Nick Blackburn allowed two earned runs and five hits in eight innings. Six days earlier against Chicago, Blackburn allowed eight earned runs on 10 hits over 4 1/3 innings in a losing effort.
"That's the best I've felt in a long time," Blackburn said. "I was finally out there relaxed a little bit, and let the ball move around. Unfortunately we didn't pull that one off, but obviously I'm pretty pleased with the way everything went for me tonight."
It was just the second time in eight starts that Blackburn allowed fewer than four runs.
"He had a great sinker tonight," Pierzynski said. "That's as good as I've seen him in a long time."