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The Naming of The Twins: Nov. 26, 1960

On this day 54 years ago, Calvin Griffith announced his decision to name the new Minnesota franchise that was relocating to the Minneapo...

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

25 Best Pitched Twins Games Ever: Francisco Liriano's No Hit Gem Joins The List

Heimlich Manuever applied
to Liriano, who's just 
swallowed his disbelief.

On Tuesday night, May 3, 2011, Francisco Liriano did not allow any hits to the Chicago White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field, in his 1-0 victory.  That makes it just the fifth no-hitter (Baseball Ref. game stats ) for the Minnesota Twins in their fifty-plus years of existence (see others in chart below).  It made me curious to see where it rated in terms of the best pitching starts in Minnesota Twins history. My search for answers began with finding the finest statistical seasons of the best Twins to ever toe the rubber, i.e, "Camilo Pascual's career year of 1963." From there, it was narrowed to "Which games from the Curveballer's big year stood out?"  That led to choosing a measurement to rank the best starts: Game Scores.

I hope the following has some interest for you. I personally like the historical aspect.
Feel free to add your comments!

This Wikipedia link contains a really nice capsule summary of every Minnesota Twin & Washington Senator no-hitter, including the very first spun by Walter Johnson

Game Scores

For objectively ranking the efficiency and effectiveness of a pitcher's starting performance, baseball's venerable statistics poindexter Bill James created the "game score" point method.  I like it a lot for its objectivity.  The playing of the game may be tweaked over time ( see "steroid use, impact upon offensive output," "evolution of taller pitchers," favorable ballpark factors," etc.), but it uniformly rates the performances with the same statistical info for Twins pitchers across six decades. It takes into account game data such as strikeouts, runs, innings pitched, hits allowed, runs allowed, etc. (see "Sabermetrics" link in sidebar for greater detail of method). The method gives us an idea where Francisco Liriano's start ranks in comparison to some of the all-time greatest pitching performances in Twins history.
The Top 25 (Links after date brings you to Baseball Reference description of game)
I'll go ahead and state the obvious.  Francisco's game was nowhere near the best start in Twins history.  It's not even the best overall game in his career - - you have to go back to his July 2, 2006 win over the Milwaukee Brewers for that.  But he definitely put himself in select company. One has to hope he jumped a hurdle in his pothole-laden road of 2011.

Honorable mention:
I remember listening to Luebber's game. Mesmerizing, it was. But, I decided not to list it among the top 25, with reservations.  Though it was very notable for the reason that Luebber carried a no-hitter through 8-2/3 innings, two consecutive hits, plus an error (see play by play account) convinced Twins Manager Gene Mauch that Luebber was gassed.  And with uber fine closer Bill Campbell in the 'pen, who could fault the move? Additionally, Luebber ( like Francisco Liriano's no-hitter) had a lousy strikeout/walk ratio of 2/2. His removal from the best game of his career, plus his sub-80 game score, eliminates him from The List. Luebber's love of the baseball lifestyle, as opposed to the actual craft of of pitching, held no sway with me in the decision to not include him.

Koosman's omission is harder yet for me to justify. The List, after all, can only have 25 picks ( a number written in blood by the Baseball Gods ). I may yet waffle and insert him in place of one of the other choices in the list.  His "aLI," or average leverage index (amount of pressure he faced, owing to the strength of the Yankee batting order and game situation) approaches that faced by Jack Morris in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series. In the end, quibbling over details like this was like shaving layers off an onion.  

We can't get bogged down in statistical ennui and nebulousness.  So, I went instead with the other Koosman game listed. Had to...Jerry's one of our own, don't ya know.

Jerry has always been very proud

that fans  fall all over themselves
to buy his rookie card.  Nobody has the
heart to tell him...
Additional Thoughts

There are several reasons why this event can be rated the most bizarre reversal of fortune in history for a Minnesota Twins pitcher. Here's a couple:
  • Liriano's sublimely awful performance in 2011 to date: his ERA went down to 6.61, from 9.13 after his previous start against the Tampa Bay Rays. I had attended that game (see post on that game experience). The Rays had a near cycle in the first inning, less a homerun; he game up two doubles, two singles, a triple, and a walk - 4 runs out of the chute. Granted, Frankie was pitching under some very cool, even snowy conditions. But Tampa's starter and winner, Wade Davis, faced the same adversities, allowing only two hits in 6+ innings.  As an eyewitness, I had the impression the 27-year old wanted out of the game from the start. Liriano's game line: 3 IP, 83 Pitches, 7 ER, 4 BB. 4 K Game Score: 19
  • Twins team performance in April. 2011: in the first, putrid month of play, the Twins as a team were 9 W - 17 L. They scored 82 runs, and gave up 139 (differential of 57 runs, an MLB worst). Throw in too that they were the last team this year to score 5 or more runs in a game, and reach double figures in wins. Worse then the Padres? Oh yes. Worse than the most impotent, offensive team of 2010. The pitching staff (see stats link) had a 5.06 ERA, gave up 31 HR, averaged 3.5 BB/Game...these are just the low lights, without mentioning fielding errors, baserunning follies, missed or poorly relayed signs.
The maxim "Win as a team, lose as a team" proves disgustingly true here.  But the Baseball Gods can evidently be kind to such a sad-ass collection, and suddenly bestow the golden touch as is their wont.

Part of the national discussion of the game, I noticed, placed the focus on a disputed play in the bottom of the 8th inning, at first base. Camera shots revealed that first base ump Paul Emmel missed the out call at first on the 5-4-3 double play attempt at first. The runner, Gordon Beckham should have been awarded first, as 1st baseman Justin Morneau missed the tag. Commentaries seemed to chime: "Liriano got a gift," or "It was pretty cheap," as if the game and no-hitter hinged on this single play.
Enough space to drive a
truck through, no.  But enough 
to fit a breadbox in the gap, si.
However, this play turns out to be an irrelevancy: Beckham would not have been given a base hit anyway, as his reaching base would have been ruled a 5-4 fielder's choice, with the hitless streak still intact. Again, I repeat: it was NOT a hit. A no-hitter is a no-hitter. Kudos to you, Mr. Francisco Liriano!!!

So, quit your whining, Twins naysayers. We part company now by saying"...And the count rides along" - TT
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