MINNEAPOLIS -- As it turned out, all of the attention was on the wrong former Twins player on Tuesday night at Target Field.
It was billed as left-hander Francisco Liriano's first start against his former club since being traded to the White Sox for two prospects late Saturday night, but it was former Minnesota catcher A.J. Pierzynski who stole the show.
Pierzynski delivered the knockout blow with a two-run homer off Jeff Gray in the ninth inning to hand the Twins a 4-3 loss that snapped their four-game winning streak.
Pierzynski, who was actually traded by the Twins to the Giants for Liriano back in '03, crushed an 0-2 slider for a two-run blast. It was Pierzynski's 18th homer and came after Alex Rios led off the inning with a single.
"Gray got the first two hitters 0-2, but gave up a base hit and a home run -- it was just bad pitches," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "Just two bad pitches end up costing you the ballgame."
The home run spoiled an impressive outing from right-hander Nick Blackburn, who outdueled Liriano in Liriano's first start with the White Sox after seven seasons with the Twins.
Blackburn gave up just two runs on five hits and a walk over eight innings but was saddled with a no-decision. It marked the first time all season he pitched more than 6 1/3 innings.
"It was the best I felt in a long time," said Blackburn, who entered the game with a 7.99 ERA. "I relaxed up there a little bit and let the ball move around. Unfortunately, we didn't pull it off, but obviously I'm pretty pleased with the way I pitched."
Liriano was also solid, as he gave up two runs on four hits and four walks over six frames. He also struck out eight and threw a season-high 113 pitches.
"It was weird the first couple of innings," Liriano admitted. "After that, it was another game to me and just make my pitches and do my job. It was weird, but I had to forget about that."
The White Sox got on the board first, scoring in the second inning on a sacrifice fly from Dayan Viciedo to score Rios, who doubled and reached third on a single from Pieryznski.
But the Twins took the lead in the sixth, scoring twice against Liriano with the help of a defensive misplay from first baseman Paul Konerko with the bases loaded. Justin Morneau hit a grounder to Konerko, whose throw home for the force out sailed past Pierzynski to allow a run to score. Danny Valencia then reached on an infield single with two outs to give Minnesota a 2-1 lead.
"Frankie threw the ball real well except for the sixth inning when he had some walks and made some mistakes," Pierzynski said. "Minnesota finally got a dose of what we've been seeing for seven years and how hard it is to hit him when he throws it over the plate."
The lead was short-lived for the Twins, as the White Sox tied it up with a run in the seventh against Blackburn. Pierzynski started it off by getting hit by a pitch with two outs and came around to score on a single from Alexei Ramirez after Viciedo singled.
The Twins missed out on a scoring opportunity in the seventh against former Minnesota reliever Jesse Crain. Joe Mauer hit a hard liner to left field with two on and one out but Viciedo made an impressive over-the-shoulder catch to rob Mauer of extra bases.
Denard Span's fourth hit of the night tallied a run with one out in the ninth, but he was stranded at first.
Span admitted it was a strange night facing Liriano, who was his teammate for the past five years.
"Standing in that box, it looks a lot different than sitting out in center field watching him," Span said. "His slider is real good. Out of his hand it looks like a fastball. It's tough to lay off. I got lucky twice. I kinda stuck the bat out to find two hits."