Francisco Liriano was on the verge of losing his spot in the rotation when he threw a no-hitter against the White Sox in May. So it was only fair that the White Sox return the favor with an unlikely no-hitter of their own.
Zach Stewart tried to one-up Liriano by carrying a perfect game into the eighth inning. Alas, Danny Valencia broke it up by reaching for an outside fastball and poking it to right field for a double, the only hit -- nay, baserunner -- the Twins mustered all night.
In the White Sox's second game of the day, Stewart had to settle for his first career shutout, which included a career-best nine strikeouts in a rather tidy 114-pitch package. Granted, this was just his eighth big-league start, so his first great start was going to set a lot of career highs, but in any event, good luck topping this one, kid.
Stewart only ran one three-ball count all night long, and that was in the fifth, when he started off Luke Hughes with three straight out of the zone. Hughes looked at strike one and two, then fouled off four straight pitches before swinging through a slider for strike three.
That illustrated a big difference in Stewart's approach -- he only started off 14 of 28 hitters with a strike, but he came back by throwing his slider in fastball counts, which is something he hadn't done much of before. Maybe the state of the Twins lineup gave him more confidence -- neither Michael Cuddyer nor Jason Kubel started, to go along with the 84 other regulars on the DL.
Great defense by the left side of the infield also helped. Brent Morel saved the perfect game bid by handling a couple of hot shots -- one to each side -- and popped up with strong throws across the diamond. Alexei Ramirez snagged a Joe Mauer screamer to end the seventh inning, and then recorded the assist on the final out by ranging to his left and spinning to throw in time to retire Ben Revere. Morel and Ramirez had been guilty of weaksauce throws over the past few games, but they had their rifles on display tonight.
The offense? Well, it did enough.
Scott Diamond didn't have Stewart's stuff, because the White Sox sized him up for line drive singles in the early going. Juan Pierre shot a single off the mound for the game's first run in the second, and Alexei Ramirez lined a single to left to make it a 2-0 game in the fifth. Diamond exited after that inning, but he left the game a survivor -- despite giving up eight hits and two walks over five innings, he held the Sox to a respectable two runs.
The Sox couldn't find a way to deliver a knockout blow until they had two outs and nobody on in the seventh. Ramirez and Alex Rios singled, Tyler Flowers walked to load the bases, and Morel broke the game open with a two-run single to center.
Throw in a mid-inning pitching change, and the Sox's late rally raised the issue that they might be icing Stewart. But Stewart quelled those questions by going three-up, three-down -- although Mauer didn't go down without a fight.
The White Sox ended up going 3-for-16 with runners in scoring position, stranding 13 runners in all. The Twins only stranded one runner. That's certainly a study in contrast, but it's pretty clear which one is preferable.
*Alex Rios led the charge by going 3-for-5 with two runs scored and a stolen base. He's had five games with three hits or more, and three of them have come against the Twins.