Indians feast on wild Liriano, top slumping Twins

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- At age 22, Francisco Liriano is still
learning. After a sensational first half and a hurried trip to the
All-Star game, it was apparently time for his next lesson.

Casey Blake, Jhonny Peralta and Travis Hafner homered against
Minnesota's standout rookie left-hander, leading the Cleveland
Indians to a 6-4 victory over the Twins on Thursday night.

Liriano (10-2), who watched his major league-leading ERA rise
from 1.83 to 2.12, lost for the first time in seven starts and
allowed one-fourth of the 12 home runs he has given up in his
117-inning career.

"I don't know what happened," said Liriano, who threw only 57
of 97 pitches for strikes. "It was one of those days when you can
throw any pitch and they will hit it."

Blake, back from the disabled list after missing nearly a month
with a strained muscle in his left side, had the first big blast --
a towering, tone-setting, two-run shot on a 1-1 changeup in the

"Guys are reading and hearing a lot about him, and all the hype
is true," Blake said. "He's a great pitcher, so it was just nice
to get off to a lead like that and get a couple runs early."

Cliff Lee (9-6) hung on for his sixth victory in eight outings --
giving up five hits, three runs (two earned) and three walks while
striking out five in 5 2-3 innings.

After Nick Punto's RBI double off Guillermo Mota pulled the
Twins within 5-4 in the seventh, Fausto Carmona worked a scoreless
eighth. Bob Wickman did the same in the ninth for his 14th save
after Kelly Shoppach extended Cleveland's lead with a homer off
Jesse Crain.

"There's three teams ahead so we've got our work cut out for
us," Lee said. "But it's nice to start with a win, and we're
going to have to do a lot more of that."

Detroit leads the AL Central by two games over Chicago, 12 over
Minnesota and 18 over Cleveland, which was one of the early
favorites in the division and clearly one of baseball's biggest
first-half disappointments.

The Indians can draw faint hope from strong second halves in
each of the last two seasons, including a 45-22 spurt after the
All-Star game in 2005 that nearly caught the World Series champion
White Sox.

"We're going to separate from the first half and come out here
and put our heads down and work hard to be the best team that we
can be," manager Eric Wedge said. "And we'll look up and see
where we are at the end."

Nine of Lee's first 10 pitches were balls, and pitching coach
Carl Willis paid an early visit to the mound. But Lee got Joe
Mauer, the majors' leading hitter, to hit a fielder's choice and
then struck out Michael Cuddyer and Justin Morneau to escape the

Lee didn't give up a hit until Shannon Stewart's bloop single in
the fifth. Cuddyer's double in the sixth drove in the first run,
and Morneau's sacrifice fly cut the lead to 5-2.

Cuddyer scored from second when Torii Hunter hit a dud between
the mound and first base that Lee fumbled for an error as he tried
to pick it up and collided with first baseman Victor Martinez.

The Twins, who surged over the .500 mark by winning 21 out of
23, lost four of five before the break to slow their momentum. A
loss by their ace to start the second half sure wasn't the way they
wanted to begin.

Liriano, a late addition to the AL squad who made a long, tiring
trip from the Dominican Republic to Pittsburgh for Tuesday's
All-Star game, had by far his worst start of the season.

He has one of baseball's best sliders, but the Twins have been
trying to get him to rely on his fastball more and locate it
better. He didn't do that very well, giving up five hits, five
runs, four earned, and three walks while striking out six.

"I was kind of all over the place," Liriano said.

With the bases loaded on a single, walk and fielding error by
Mauer, the catcher, Jason Michaels hit a sacrifice fly. Peralta
went deep leading off the fourth, and Hafner hammered his 26th
homer into the facade of the upper deck above right field in the
fifth to make it 5-0.

"He was trying to get his focus, and it just wasn't there early
in the ballgame," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "He never really
got settled in. It's probably, in the long run, going to help him.
He's been going so good, and everything's been perfect and maybe
something like this you learn from it."

Game notes
Cleveland's Ronnie Belliard had a career-long 14-game
hitting streak end rather harshly with an 0-for-4, including two
strikeouts and a double-play groundout. ... Minnesota ran out of
left fielders with Stewart serving as the designated hitter.
Regular Jason Kubel complained of sore knees before the game and
was scratched. His replacement, Lew Ford, left after the fifth with
what the team called a strained muscle on his right side. Punto
moved from third to left to replace Ford, who was placed on the DL
after the game. Outfielder Jason Tyner was called up from Triple-A
Rochester to take his spot.