MINNEAPOLIS — Martin Maldonado's two-run, tiebreaking home run in the ninth inning off Matt Capps pushed the Milwaukee Brewers past the Minnesota Twins 5-3 on Friday night, and John Axford bounced back from consecutive blown saves to preserve the lead.
Corey Hart led off the ninth against Capps (1-4) with a double. With two outs and two strikes, Maldonado sent a fastball into the bullpen. Then Axford pitched a 1-2-3 inning for his 11th save.
Despite Axford's blown save chances in each of the last two games at Kansas City that spiked his ERA to 5.55, manager Ron Roenicke said the right-hander is still in his usual role and that he's confident Axford has the right personality to handle struggles.
Ryan Braun ended Francisco 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 the game at 3 off Yovani Gallardo in the bottom of the frame with his second home run of the night, his seventh in seven games and 14th of the season.
Kameron Loe (3-2) picked up the victory with 1 2-3 scoreless innings.
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.
Struggling second baseman Rickie Weeks, put in the designated hitter spot by Roenicke to try to find a spark for the eighth-year veteran, hit a bouncer to shortstop to begin the fifth inning, but Brian Dozier grabbed the ball deep in the hole and crow-hopped a throw on line to first for the out. Two batters later, Martin Maldanado 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 by following Plouffe's home run, on his 26th birthday, with three straight singles, the last by Casilla that made the score 2-0. But Denard Span gave Gallardo his first out with a sacrifice bunt. That put both runners in scoring position, but Ben Revere bounced out and after an intentional walk to 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 hung an 0-2 slider that Braun hit over the center-field wall.
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 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 he 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. Gallardo struck out seven and walked two while giving up eight hits.
NOTES: RH Mike Fiers (1-2, 4.50 ERA) pitches for the Brewers in Saturday's matinee against fellow rookie RH Liam Hendriks (0-2, 9.00) of the Twins. Fiers will make his fourth start for the Brewers. Hendriks will be recalled from Triple-A Rochester to rejoin the rotation after four starts at the beginning of the season for the Twins. ... Twins manager Ron 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 announced Dan Gladden teased Gardenhire: "How'd you get it?" Gardenhire quipped, "Danny, I'm the manager here. I've got some pull."