The return of 22-year-old lefthander Francisco Liriano couldn't have come at a better time for the Twins. Before he left the team to rehab strained ligaments in his throwing arm, he had compiled a record of 12-3 with a 2.19 ERA.
The Twins entered Wednesday's game riding a five-game winning streak while trailing division leading Detroit by one and a half games. Nearly 19,000 fans gathered in the Metrodome in anticipation of watching the Twins continue their surge toward first place in the American League Central Division.
Liriano initially showed his old, dominating form. His first pitch was a 93 mph fastball for a strike. Liriano needed only nine pitches to dispose of the A's batters in the first inning. He continued his dominance in the 2nd inning throwing another 13 pitches.
Twins coaches had planned to allow the young pitcher to throw 60 pitches in order to spare his arm more wear and tear.
Then came the third inning. Liriano threw his 28th pitch into the dirt. He winced as he came off the mound. His teammates and a few coaches hurried to him, while Liriano bent over in obvious pain. The Metrodome got quiet.
Liriano left the field to a standing ovation and the Twins brought in Matt Garza in relief. Garza gave up only one run in his appearance. But the dominant pitcher of the day was the A's right hander Dan Haren who shut the Twins out over eight innings of work, allowing only three hits and striking out seven.
After the game, Twins Manager Ron Gardenhire says it was a tough loss both for the team and for Liriano.
"It's just sad for him because he's worked so hard to get back out on the field and then he feels it again in his arm. That's the sad thing. It's sad for Liriano because he wanted to be out there so bad and he was feeling so good. When you throw a baseball, these things happen in the game and we have to move past it. And we'll get him right for next year. But it's sad for him because he wanted to be a big part of this and it just didn't work out for us," he said.
Gardenhire says he thought the pitch that did Liriano's arm in was a slider. But catcher Mike Redmond disagreed.
"Actually it was a fastball inside, that he threw in the dirt. Then he kind of walked off. I thought it was his ankle or something, I wasn't sure what the problem was. But I asked him, 'Where are you hurt?' And he says 'elbow'".
The Twins have already lost the leader of their pitching staff, Brad Radke, possibly for the rest of the season, with a stress fracture in his pitching shoulder. The team may have to promote rookie pitcher Boof Bonser to the number two slot in the pitching rotation. However, Twins players, like Michael Cuddyer say the Twins have managed to get this far and will have to keep finding ways to win, whatever the pitching line-up.
"At this time of the year, nothing is easy. No matter who you're playing, everybody wants to go out there and prove themselves, whether it be for a job next year or whatever. It's not going to be easy, but at the same time we feel real comfortable and real confident with the team we've got and the way we've been playing. And we've overcome a lot of adversity this year and this is just one more thing we've got to overcome."
The Twins have 17 more games remaining in the regular season. They maintain a slight lead over the Chicago White Sox for the American League wild card playoff spot. The Twins begin a four game series in Cleveland on Thursday.