Liriano puts struggles aside to deliver no-hitter

CHICAGO Wed May 4, 2011 12:34pm EDT

Minnesota Twins starter Francisco Liriano pitches against the Baltimore Orioles during the second inning of a spring training baseball game at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota, Florida, March 9, 2011 REUTERS/Steve Nesius

Minnesota Twins starter Francisco Liriano pitches against the Baltimore Orioles during the second inning of a spring training baseball game at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota, Florida, March 9, 2011

Credit: Reuters/Steve Nesius

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CHICAGO (Reuters) - Francisco Liriano seemed like the least likely candidate to pitch Major League Baseball's first no-hitter of 2011.

But the Minnesota Twins left-hander with a 9.13 earned run average somehow did just that on Tuesday in defeating the Chicago White Sox 1-0.

"I feel so happy," Liriano told reporters after the first complete game of his six-year career. "I had a rough start to the season, so it's very exciting."

The no-hitter was far from flawless. Liriano, 27, walked six batters and needed 123 pitches and some outstanding defensive plays by the Twins.

Yet the Dominican came through on a chilly night when his starting spot in the Minnesota rotation was on the line.

"I think that's the greatest thing in the world, watching (his team mates) all out there jumping on Frankie," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said of the post-game celebration.

Touted as a super prospect after going 12-3 with a 2.16 ERA in 2006, Liriano struggled after undergoing elbow surgery that sidelined him for the 2007 season.

He came back in 2008 but endured up-and-down seasons until a 14-10 record in 2010 earned him American League Comeback Player of the Year honors.

But an inauspicious start this season put his rotation spot in jeopardy for the slow-starting Twins. Liriano had only one win in five starts before Tuesday's no-hit victory.

"I've probably seen him with better stuff, but obviously not with the results," Twins pitching coach Rick Anderson said. "But he kept pounding it in there and made some big pitches when he needed to, and our defense played great for him."

He did not say a lot after the first Twins' no-hitter in 12 years, Liriano's team mates said.

"I think he was speechless," Twins outfielder Denard Span said. "I wouldn't say he wanted to cry, but you could just tell he was emotional, and you could tell he left everything out there."

(Reporting by Gene Cherry in Salvo, North Carolina; Editing by Larry Fine)

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