By Dan Myers
Special to SportsXchange
MINNEAPOLIS -- Playing against his former team, Minnesota Twins left fielder Josh Willingham did it again Wednesday.
Less than 24 hours after clubbing a walk-off, three-run home run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, Willingham blasted another homer Wednesday to lead the Twins to a 4-0 win over the Oakland A's.
The victory was the Twins' first three-game sweep since taking down the San Diego Padres June 17-19 of last season. It also pushed Oakland's losing streak to eight.
"These long losing streaks can take on a life of their own," said Athletics manager Bob Melvin. "They're not just going to end. Our spirit needs to be better."
Willingham, who started the season on fire for Minnesota, but had cooled of late, finished the three-game set with four hits and seven RBIs.
"He's gonna miss a few here and there, but when he puts a swing on it, he's a strong young man," said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire. "They make a mistake over the middle and he wallops it pretty good. Really compact swing, goes about his business every day pretty much the same way."
Perhaps more importantly for the Twins was the performance on the mound by hurler Francisco Liriano (1-5).
Banished the bullpen after beginning the season 0-5, the lefty pitched brilliantly in his first start since May 7. He allowed just three hits and two walks in six shutout innings, while striking out nine. After working out of a couple of early jams, Liriano retired the final 11 men he faced.
"That was the best we've seen him in a while," Gardenhire said. "Early, it looked like he was rushing a little bit, but once he got going there, his fastball was over the plate and he made a lot of good pitches. We're real happy for the young man."
The Twins gave Liriano some early run support, scoring twice in the bottom of the first off Oakland starter Tyson Ross (2-6).
Denard Span led off the game with a double and sacrificed to third by Ben Revere. A Joe Mauer walk set up Willingham, who ripped a first-pitch fastball into center, plating Span and the game's first run.
Two batters later, shortstop Brian Dozier's soft single to center scored Mauer, staking Liriano to a 2-0 lead.
That's all the lefty would need.
Liriano struck out the side in the second inning and worked quickly, keeping the Athletics off balance all day.
"It's a great day for me," Liriano said. "I'm very happy I got the win. Was able to keep the ball down and I was hitting my spots better than before."
Ross pitched effectively after the first too, but ran into trouble again in the fifth when he walked Mauer, then hung a curveball to Willingham, who crushed it into the second deck in left. The homer was his 10th of the season.
Ross left after five innings. He allowed four earned runs on six hits and three walks, while striking out one.
As far as his team's offense, Melvin could use only one word to describe it.
"Bad," he said. "We continue to play hard. But we have to fight harder. There's a difference."
NOTES: The victory capped Minnesota's first three-game sweep of any opponent this season. The Twins did take two from Detroit May 16-17 at Comerica Park. ... Dozier's RBI single in the first snapped an 0-for-14 skid for the rookie shortstop. His previous hit and RBI came in the same game May 25 against the Tigers, a 10-6 loss last Friday night at Target Field. ... Oakland was shutout for the fifth time in its last 14 games and for the ninth time all season, taking over sole possession of the league lead in that category. ... Minnesota is off Thursday before kicking off a six-game road trip -- all within the Central Division -- at Cleveland Friday night. ... The A's also have Thursday off before continuing their Central Division swing on Friday night in Kansas City.
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