Liriano Strikes Out 11 As Twins Edge Braves, 2-1

This matchup really lived up to its billing as a pitcher's duel. Both Tim Hudson and Francisco Liriano were fantastic, albeit in completely different styles. Liriano mowed down the Braves with strikeouts, while Hudson just kept inducing bounceout after bounceout. It was a lot of fun to watch, though the results were not what we Braves fans would like. It was also mercifully brief, coming in at a brisk 2 hours, 6 minutes (not quite half as long as Thursday's Braves-D'backs slugfest).

If it were not for one poor (and unlucky) inning, Tim Hudson might have thrown a shutout tonight. Sadly, it didn't work out that way, and the 2 runs that Huddy gave up in the 7th were all the Twins needed. Huddy cruised through the first 6 innings in only 61 pitches, allowing only 3 baserunners (1 of which was erased on a double play). He did give up some hard hit balls, but his defense really helped him out with some nice plays. Of particular note were back-to-back plays in the 2nd: a leaping grab by Jason Heyward at the wall and a diving stop to his right by Martin Prado.

Unfortunately, all of that evaporated in the 7th. The first batter, Joe Mauer, hit a ground ball up the middle that Martin Prado fielded but couldn't get out of his glove. Next, Justin Morneau smoked a grounder past Chipper Jones. And when I say "past," I mean, "a foot to the left of." Chipper clearly didn't pick up the ball off the bat, because he barely moved at all. Perhaps he lost the ball in the relatively light pitching backdrop at Target Field.

After that, Michael Cuddyer hit a bouncer high off the plate that Hudson could not get to in time to make a play. With the bases loaded and no outs, Huddy made some nasty pitches to strike out Jim Thome, who had destroyed Tim in past meetings. Unfortunately, Tim left a pitch up to the next hitter, Jason Kubel, who smoked a single to right, scoring Mauer and tying the game. Next, Tim got a bit unlucky as he made a good pitch to pinch-hitter Delmon Young, but Young found a way to serve it into left field to put the Twins ahead.

At that point, the Twins still had the bases loaded and only one out, but Tim bore down and got out of the inning by striking out Nick Punto and getting Denard Span to ground out. The damage was done, but despite the loss, Tim pitched great. He went the distance, and ended with a final line of 8 IP, 7 H (5 in the 7th inning), 2 R, 1 BB, 2 K, 17/28 ground balls (61%), and a WPA of 0.093. And yes, folks, that is a JavierVazquezLoss, the first by a Braves starter this year.

More recap and Awards after the jump...

Francisco Liriano was phenomenal all night, and showed flashes of utter dominance. The most notable was when he struck out 7 straight Braves batters from the 3rd through the 5th innings. He was a bit wild (2 wild pitches and only 13 first pitch strikes to 28 batters), but he managed not to walk anyone, and actually only had 3 three-ball counts. The only Braves run scored in the 2nd inning. In a great example of station-to-station baseball, the Braves used 2 singles (by Glaus and McCann), a sacrifice (by Escobar), and a groundout (by Infante) to scratch out a run.

Unfortunately, that would be the Braves' only run, and it was really their only serious threat all game. Liriano's final line was 8 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 0 BB, 11 K, and a magnificent 0.417 WPA. When he's at his best, he's filthy. And he was at his best tonight.

Twins closer Jon Rauch came in for the 9th inning and didn't even let the Braves put the ball in play, striking out Heyward, Chipper, and Troy Glaus (all swinging) to give the Twins' pitchers 14 strikeouts on the night.

Braves do-it-all man Omar Infante left the game in the 6th inning after fouling a ball off of his shin/ankle area an inning before. Hopefully he'll be alright for tomorrow's game, but reinforcements are on the way. Nate McLouth was disabled before the game, and the Braves called up Jordan Schafer Brandon Hicks from AAA Gwinnett. The Braves had planned on calling up Schafer to replace McLouth, but Infante's injury compelled them to go with Hicks instead, since Bobby Cox needs another person who can play shortstop.


Liriano (duh)

Honorable Mention
Jason Kubel-- 2/3, RBI, 0.188 WPA

The Braves' top 3 hitters (Prado, Heyward, and Chipper)-- a combined 0/12 with 7 Ks (4 by Heyward) and a combined WPA of -0.384

MVP in a Losing Effort
Tim Hudson (again, duh)

Clutch Plays
The top 5 WPA plays of the game were the 5 singles by the Twins in the 7th, topped by Kubel's game-tying hit at 0.164 WPA.

Unclutch Plays
Interestingly, the Twins also had the 2 lowest WPA plays, a GIDP from Danny Valencia in the 5th (-0.132 WPA) and Thome's bases-loaded, no out strikeout in the 7th (-0.120).

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