Liriano hurls seven strong innings as Twins earn split

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Minnesota watched the Tampa Bay Rays celebrate clinching their first-ever playoff berth Saturday. One day later the Twins picked up some much-needed momentum heading into a key showdown with the Chicago White Sox.

Francisco Liriano allowed one run over seven innings to lead the Twins past the Tampa Bay Rays 4-1 on Sunday.

The Twins remained 2 1/2 games behind AL Central-leading Chicago White Sox. The White Sox beat Kansas City 3-0. After an off day Monday, the top two teams in the AL Central open a three-game series Tuesday in Minnesota.

"It's our home," Gardenhire said. "They're the one with the lead and who we have to catch. It's our ballpark and we normally play well there. We just have to prove it."

Liriano is 6-0 in 10 starts since rejoining the team from Triple-A Rochester last month. Minnesota, which got a total of just 6 1/3 innings from its starters during the first three games of the series, split the four-game set with the AL East-leading Rays, who clinched at least a wild-card spot Saturday.

"He stepped up for us big time," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "It was on his shoulders to get us deep in the ballgame and he did that."

Liriano (6-3) rebounded from a rough start last Tuesday when the left-hander gave up eight runs over 2 2/3 innings in the Twins' 12-9 loss to Cleveland. He scattered five hits helping Minnesota complete a long road trip with a 4-6 record.

"From my last start, I tried not to rush and just picked my spots," said Liriano, who struck out seven and walked four. "When you throw the slider, they're going to swing at pitches out of the zone. That's what that pitch is for."

Tampa Bay rested several starters, including shortstop Jason Bartlett, second baseman Akinori Iwamura and catcher Dioner Navarro. First baseman Carlos Pena was the designated hitter, while center fielder B.J. Upton started for the first time since straining his left quadriceps on Sept. 8.

The Rays had their AL East-lead over second-place Boston slip to 1 1/2 games. The Red Sox beat Toronto 3-0.

"That's the story of the game, ... Liriano beat us," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "I don't think [we were] sluggish. I think the game was dictated by pitching on both sides."

Tampa Bay closes out the regular season with an eight-game road trip, with four games each at Baltimore and Detroit.

"I think our guys will react well the whole week," Maddon said. "It's just one game at a time, like it's been all year."

Tampa Bay completed its home regular season with a 57-24 record. It's the most home wins by any major league baseball team since the 1998 New York Yankees went 62-19 at Yankee Stadium.

Mike Redmond hit an RBI single, Adam Everett had a run-scoring infield single and Carlos Gomez drove in a run on a bunt single during a four-run fourth that put Minnesota ahead 4-1.

Jose Mijares pitched a perfect eighth and Joe Nathan got the final three outs for his 38th save in 44 opportunities.

The Rays took a 1-0 lead on Pena's sacrifice fly in the third.

Andy Sonnanstine (13-8) failed for the sixth time to win his 14th game of the season, which would have tied the Tampa Bay record for single-season wins set by Rolando Arrojo in 1998. The right-hander, 0-2 over his last six starts, allowed four runs and seven hits in 6 2/3 innings.

Game notes
Los Angeles Dodgers manager Joe Torre was among those sending messages of congratulations to Maddon after Tampa Bay clinched it's playoff spot. ... Minnesota's Joe Mauer doubled in the first to extend his hitting streak to 11 games. He went 8-for-15 in the series. ... Rays LHP David Price, taken first overall in the 2007 amateur draft, will make his first major league start Monday at Baltimore. ... Tampa Bay will skip RHP Matt Garza's next turn in the rotation. His last start came on short rest. ... Twins 3B Brian Buscher, who jammed his left thumb Wednesday, was back in the starting lineup. ... Nathan has 199 career saves.