MINNEAPOLIS -- Following the 4-3 White Sox victory over the Twins before 36,424 Tuesday night at Target Field, Francisco Liriano sought out catcher A.J. Pierzynski to briefly discuss their first game working together.
"He apologized to me for being wild," said Pierzynski with a wry smile. "I said, 'Dude, you're fine. You're great. Don't apologize to me.' I know it's fun to see someone else try to hit that slider besides me after all these years."
Liriano and Pierzynski both have previously helped the Twins (44-59) achieve great success. They also had 22 head-to-head at-bats when they were American League Central rivals.
Their relationship goes as far back as Liriano being part of the trade that sent Pierzynski to the Giants prior to the start of the 2004 campaign. On Tuesday, they helped the White Sox (56-47) hang on for a typical nail-biting victory against Ron Gardenhire's crew and increase their American League Central lead to 2 1/2 games over Detroit, which dropped a rain-shortened, 4-1 decision at Fenway Park.
Jeff Gray (5-1) served up a hanging slider on an 0-2 pitch to Pierzynski with Alex Rios on first base in the ninth. Pierzynski's 18th homer, deposited into the right-field stands, matched his single-season high set in 2005 and proved to be the game-winner.
The blast came about three innings too late to make a winner out of Liriano. But the first start for Liriano against the only team he really has ever known stood out as a success, based on the two runs allowed on four hits over six innings, while striking out eight and walking four.
Twins fans gave Liriano a nice ovation when his name was announced as part of the White Sox starting lineup. But the night quickly became just another start for the southpaw with electric stuff and the dominant slider.
"It was weird the first couple innings," Liriano said. "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.
"I was excited, probably overthrowing the first two innings. I calmed myself down and tried to do my job and be part of the team and enjoy myself."
Having Liriano pitch every five or six days could become a regularly enjoyable experience for the White Sox. That fact becomes especially true with John Danks officially lost for the season because of season-ending exploratory shoulder surgery, and the innings totals for first-year starter Chris Sale and rookie Jose Quintana being watched.
"He threw the ball, he was throwing 95 mph," said White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko. "The stuff is obviously there. What he took out there tonight, more times than not, we will score some runs and make it a little bit easier for him."
"Standing in that box, it looks a lot different than sitting out in center field watching him," said Minnesota center fielder Denard Span, who knocked out four hits. "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."
Span contributed that fourth hit in the ninth off closer Addison Reed (17th save) to score Ben Revere and cut the White Sox lead to one. But Joe Mauer's groundout to Konerko ended the contest, although it closed with a little extra adventure.
Mauer's hard hopper ricocheted off Konerko's chest, and when he went to plant and flip the ball to Reed, Konerko rolled his right ankle. Reed caught Konerko's flip with his pitching hand and stepped on the bag.
"Not textbook but we'll take the out," White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. "It did look a little odd."
Konerko wasn't worried about the ankle, although he wasn't sure what he would be doing in Wednesday afternoon's series finale.
"We're all right," Konerko said. "We are going to battle through it."
Nick Blackburn entered the night with a 7.99 ERA, but the right-hander allowed just two earned runs on five hits over eight innings, striking out two and walking one. He gave up Dayan Viciedo's sacrifice fly in the second and Alexei Ramirez's two-out, game-tying single in the seventh, completing a rally that started when Pierzynski was hit by a 1-2 pitch.
Wildness plagued Liriano during a two-run sixth, as he walked two, but otherwise he looked every bit the rotation upgrade general manager Ken Williams had hoped for when shipping Eduardo Escobar and Pedro Hernandez to the Twins on Saturday night. Liriano became the first White Sox starter to make his debut the same season against the club he was acquired from since Marino Pieretti on June 19, 1948, against Washington, according to Elias.
That piece of memorable history has been pushed to the side, in a ballpark where he previously picked up 13 victories. Now Liriano can focus on simply being part of the White Sox.
"Minnesota finally got a dose of what we've been seeing for seven years," Pierzynski said, "and how hard it is to hit him when he throws it over the plate."
"Frankie did his thing. He threw the ball well," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "He got in the same situations he gets in with us. He just worked his way out of them. He battled for them."