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Associated Press, Published June 20 2012

Willingham's homer lifts Twins to win in Pittsburgh

PITTSBURGH – Josh Willingham didn’t know what was coming. His teammates sure did.

Digging in against Pittsburgh Pirates reliever Jason Grilli with the game tied in the eighth on Wednesday night, the Minnesota Twins outfielder was simply looking to get something started.

He ended up finishing off the Pirates.

Willingham turned on a 93 mph fastball and sent it into the seats in left-center field to lift the Twins to a needed 2-1 victory.

“It’s probably the most obvious call in the clubhouse is, ‘Willingham’s going to hit a homer,’ and they’re all taking credit,” Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire said. “He’s the one guy who walks up there and he’s swinging for it. He can juice a baseball, he can pull a baseball. And I called that one too.”

Willingham’s 14th home run of the season lifted the Twins to just their second victory in their past seven games. Reliever Jared Burton (1-0) helped Francisco Liriano avoid major trouble in the seventh while Glen Perkins picked up his first save in place of injured closer Matt Capps, who is battling right shoulder inflammation.

The Twins weren’t the only ones who knew Willingham was going to go deep. Grilli (1-2) did too the moment the ball left his hand.

“It was probably the worst pitch I’ve thrown all season,” Grilli said after giving up his first homer since April 17.

Minnesota will take it on a night Liriano looked like the pitcher who baffled the Pirates during his only other start at PNC Park six years ago.

Liriano allowed five hits and struck out 11 against no walks on June 16, 2006, a performance that came in the midst of a season in which he went 12-3 and made the All-Star team before injuring his left elbow at the end of the year.

He has shown only flashes of brilliance in the interim and pitched so badly at the beginning of the season he spent some time in the bullpen in May before returning to the starting rotation on May 30.

Though Liriano’s stuff wasn’t electric against the Pirates, it was efficient. He breezed through the first five innings and didn’t get a three-ball count on any batter until he intentionally walked Andrew McCutchen with two outs in the sixth. Liriano was averaging 5.4 walks per nine innings coming in.

“I feel fine, I feel more consistent with my delivery, throwing more strikes,” Liriano said. “I’m hitting my spots. I’m confident in all my pitches.”

He’s also confident in his defense, particularly after it bailed him out in the seventh.

The Pirates loaded the bases with one out when pinch-hitter Rod Barajas sent a sinking fly ball into the gap in left-center. Minnesota centerfielder Denard Span made a spectacular diving grab to turn a potentially disastrous moment into a game-tying sacrifice fly.

Minnesota Pittsburgh

ab r h bi ab r h bi

Span cf 4 0 1 0 Tabata lf-rf 3 0 0 0

Revere rf 4 0 0 0 JHrrsn rf 3 0 1 0

Wlngh lf 4 2 2 1 Prsley ph-lf 1 0 0 0

Mornea 1b 3 0 1 0 AMcCt cf 3 0 1 0

Plouffe 3b 4 0 1 1 McGeh 1b 4 0 1 0

Dozier ss 3 0 0 0 Walker 2b 4 0 0 0

JCarrll 2b 4 0 1 0 PAlvrz 3b 2 1 0 0

Butera c 4 0 1 0 Mercer pr 0 0 0 0

Liriano p 3 0 0 0 Barmes ss 4 0 1 0

Burton p 0 0 0 0 McKnr c 3 0 0 0

Mstrnn ph 1 0 0 0 Bedard p 1 0 0 0

Perkins p 0 0 0 0 Hague ph 1 0 1 0

JHughs p 0 0 0 0

Barajs ph 0 0 0 1

Grilli p 0 0 0 0

Slaten p 0 0 0 0

GJones ph 1 0 0 0

Totals 34 2 7 2 Totals 30 1 5 1

Minnesota 100 000 010— 2

Pittsburgh 000 000 100— 1

LOB—Minnesota 7, Pittsburgh 8. 2B—Willingham (19), Butera (4), J.Harrison (7). HR—Willingham (14). S—Tabata. SF—Barajas.

IP H R ER BB SO

Minnesota

Liriano 6Xc 4 1 1 2 6

Burton W,1-0 1Zc 1 0 0 0 1

Perkins S,1-3 1 0 0 0 1 2

Pittsburgh

Bedard 6 4 1 1 2 7

J.Hughes 1 1 0 0 0 0

Grilli L,1-2 1 2 1 1 0 0

Slaten 1 0 0 0 0 0

HBP—by Liriano (P.Alvarez).

T—2:42. A—19,878 (38,362).