MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - Francisco Liriano faltered again in a critical moment.
Matt Capps followed suit.
Capps yielded a tiebreaking two-run homer to Martin Maldonado in the ninth inning, sending the Minnesota Twins to a 5-3 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers on Friday night.
Corey Hart started the ninth with a double against Capps (1-4). Then with two outs and two strikes, Maldonado sent a fastball into the bullpen.
``I felt good with my slider. In hindsight, I should've thrown another one there,' Capps said.
Then John Axford pitched a 1-2-3 inning for his 11th save, following blown save chances in each of the last two games at Kansas City.
Ryan Braun ended Liriano's no-hit bid with a one-out, three-run homer in the sixth inning on the left-hander's 97th pitch after a pair of walks. Trevor Plouffe tied it at 3 with a drive off Yovani Gallardo in the bottom half for his second home run of the night, his seventh in seven games and No. 14 for the season.
But Manny Parra, Kameron Loe (3-2) and Axford combined to limit the Twins to a pair of singles over the last three innings.
``Frankie threw the ball well,' Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. ``He just had the one bad inning.'
Liriano struck out six in six innings, walking four, hitting one batter and allowing just the one hit. He was sharp from the start, striking out the side in the second and recording six groundball outs over the first five innings.
He had help on defense, including a slow roller that second baseman Alexi Casilla scooped and in the same motion made an off-balance sidearm throw on target to beat Norichika Aoki by a step in the third.
Rickie Weeks hit a bouncer to shortstop to begin the fifth inning, but Brian Dozier grabbed the ball deep in the hole, jumped and zipped a throw to first for the out. Two batters later, Maldonado smashed a line drive to third base, but that sailed straight into Plouffe's glove.
The Twins had a prime opportunity to further pad their lead after Plouffe's first home run on his 26th birthday. Casilla had the last of three straight singles to make it 2-0. Denard Span's sacrifice put runners on second and third, but Ben Revere bounced out and, after an intentional walk to Joe Mauer, Josh Willingham's fly ball to center field didn't quite reach the warning track.
After taking all that time to only produce two runs, with Liriano sitting in the dugout and losing his rhythm, the Twins lost some of their edge. Liriano walked ninth hitter Edwin Maysonet and then Carlos Gomez - he of the .303 on-base percentage entering the game - for a second time with one out.
Pitching coach Rick Anderson visited Liriano on the mound, Brian Duensing began warming up in the bullpen and ... Liriano threw an 0-2 slider that Braun hit over the center-field wall.
``He's got no-hitter stuff. Almost at all times,' Braun said. ``It's just a matter, for him, of command. When he's commanding his changeup and his slider, he's really difficult. So you know you're not going to get too many opportunities.'
This is the Liriano the Twins have had to settle for, six years after his sensational rookie debut and subsequent elbow injury. In four starts since returning to the rotation last month, Liriano has a 3.04 ERA with 29 strikeouts and just 12 hits allowed in 23 2-3 innings. But he's still struggling to bear down and get that critical out when he and the Twins need it.
Gallardo wasn't great, but the right-hander was good enough to keep the Brewers in the game and give Braun his chance to make an impact. He needed 109 pitches to finish six innings, but after allowing a pair of infield singles following Plouffe's second homer he struck out Span to end that threat. He struck out seven in all and walked two while giving up eight hits.
NOTES: Plouffe had 11 home runs in the first 125 games of his career. He's hit 13 homers in his last 22 games. ... Gardenhire was given the ball Jim Thome hit for a home run for Philadelphia the night before. It was stuck in the flowers in the facade above right-center field until ballpark workers found it later. Radio announcer Dan Gladden teased Gardenhire: ``How'd you get it?' Gardenhire quipped, ``Danny, I'm the manager here. I've got some pull.'
The Associated Press News Service
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