CHICAGO – Francisco Liriano’s 123rd pitch of the night headed to the plate, and Adam Dunn turned on it.
The ball streaked toward the left side of the infield. For an instant, it appeared Liriano’s no-hit bid might be shattered with one out to go.
Shortstop Matt Tolbert took two steps to his right, gloved the liner, spun around and raised the ball in triumph with his bare hand. Then he sprinted to the mound, where the pitcher was being mobbed by teammates, to personally deliver the prize.
On a cold night at U.S. Cellular Field, Liriano wiped away the memory of all those shaky outings this season, pitching a no-hitter that led the Minnesota Twins over the Chicago White Sox 1-0 Tuesday.
“It was a crazy night,” said Liriano, who might have been pitching to save his spot in the rotation following a 1-4 start with a 9.13 ERA coming in.
“When I go out there I try to think positive,” he said. “I don’t want to think about, ‘They’re going to put me in the bullpen.’ I just try to do my best.”
Liriano was running low on energy in the final innings, even as his pitches were still baffling the hapless White Sox and pressure mounted.
With the no-hitter within reach and his pitch count climbing, he relied on defense to help him finish.
“To be honest I was running out of gas,” he said. “I just thank my teammates that they made some great plays behind me.”
Liriano (2-4) walked six and struck out two in his first complete game in 95 major league starts. The 27-year-old left-hander, who reached the big leagues in 2005, matched his career high with 123 pitches.
“I can’t explain it. I feel so nervous and so happy right now,” Liriano said.
He survived a rocky ninth inning that began when Brent Morel grounded to shortstop and Tolbert made a one-hop throw that first baseman Justin Morneau scooped. Juan Pierre walked and Alexei Ramirez popped to shortstop.
Liriano fell behind Dunn 3-0 in the count, then got a pair of strikes. After a foul ball, Dunn followed with perhaps the hardest-hit ball off Liriano all night.
“I thought it was a base hit,” Liriano said. “When I saw him catch it, I was so excited.”
Dunn dropped to 0 for 16 against left-handers this season.
“As soon as I hit it, I saw him, and it was right to him,” Dunn said. “That’s pretty much the story of the day.”
For Tolbert it was the end of an unforgettable experience. He got the start at shortstop as the Twins moved Alexi Casilla to second base.
“I was excited and a little nervous. It’s not every day that you get to play behind a no-hitter,” Tolbert said. “I was thinking somehow we had to get this guy (Dunn) out. I know he’s so dangerous. I was playing him up the middle a little bit, and he hit it in the right spot.”
Liriano, the reigning A.L. comeback player of the year, was backed by Jason Kubel’s fourth-inning homer. He threw just 66 pitches for strikes but kept Chicago off-balance in a game that took just 2 hours, 9 minutes.
In his previous start, he lasted three innings in an 8-2 loss to Tampa Bay. The shutout lowered his ERA for the season to 6.61.
It was the seventh no-hitter for the Twins-Washington Senators franchise and the first since Eric Milton’s against the Angels on Sept. 11, 1999.
The White Sox were no-hit for the 13th time, the first since they were beaten by Kansas City’s Bret Saberhagen on Aug. 26, 1991.