MINNEAPOLIS -- Eyebrows were raised when Francisco Liriano was beat up by the Cleveland Indians in his first start after the All-Star break.
Don't worry, Twins fans, the kid was just a little worn out from a whirlwind All-Star tour.
"It was really nice that I didn't feel so tired," said Liriano, who hit 95 mph on the radar gun in the ninth inning. "I was pretty tired in my last start."
What was billed as a matchup of two of the best young lefties in baseball proved to be no match at all.
Liriano (11-2) struck out seven to bounce back from his worst start of the season and received a standing ovation when he took the mound to start the ninth, while Kazmir (10-7) showed plenty of rust in his first start in nine days.
After traveling from his native Dominican Republic to Pittsburgh as a last-minute fill-in for the AL All-Star squad, Liriano gave up five runs and five hits in five innings of a loss to Cleveland last week.
He looked like his old self against the nose-diving Devil Rays, who lost their fifth straight and 10th in a row to the Twins dating to July 21, 2004. The 22-year-old Liriano didn't allow a baserunner until Julio Lugo's leadoff single in the fourth.
"He looked as good as the scoreboard said," said Tampa designated hitter Jonny Gomes, who was 0-for-3.
Liriano just missed his first career complete game. Tomas Perez reached on an error to start the ninth and Rocco Baldelli's run-scoring single chased Liriano with two outs. Kyle Lohse struck out Jorge Cantu for the final out.
"He was throwing the ball as good as you can throw the baseball," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "He just dominated them."
Kazmir gave up four runs and seven hits in six innings, including a towering home run to Justin Morneau in the fourth that gave Liriano more than enough support.
"He started slowly," Devil Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "Early on he did not have that rhythm. He just wasn't sharp tonight."
Kazmir, the AL's other 22-year-old rising star, pitched one inning in the All-Star Game, but hadn't started a game since July 8. He was scratched from his scheduled start on Saturday because of a stiff neck.
He fell behind leadoff hitter Luis Castillo 3-0 before getting him to pop out weakly to first, then gave up a triple to Nick Punto.
Joe Mauer followed with a single to make it 1-0.
"That's the thing about No. 1 starters, you have to get them early," Punto said. "If you don't get them early, they get comfortable and they settle down and it's always tough to come get them."
The Twins opened the third with three straight singles, the last by Castillo driving in Jason Tyner. Punto followed with a sacrifice fly to make it 3-0.
Morneau's 25th homer of the season made it 4-0 in the fourth. It was just the second homer, and fifth extra-base hit, Kazmir has allowed to a lefty all year.
"I made a couple pitches I really didn't want to and they capitalized on it," Kazmir said.
A disastrous relief appearance by Edwin Jackson allowed the Twins to pull away in the seventh. He gave up singles to Rondell White and Josh Rabe, then hit Tyner before his wild pitch allowed White to score from third.
Punto's second hit of the game scored two more runs, thanks in part to a great slide from Tyner at home to make it 7-0, and that was it for Jackson, who gave up four runs and three hits in one-third of an inning.
Punto had three RBI and Mauer added two hits and two RBI for the Twins, who won their fifth in a row.
The Rays have lost eight of nine to fall a season-worst 16 games below .500.
"This," Gomes said, "is the toughest stretch of the season for us."
- Baldelli made a nice play in the second on a hit and run. Baldelli caught a line drive in right-center from Rabe, then gunned down White with a picture-perfect throw to first to end the inning.
- White was doubled off first again in the fourth after a leaping catch by SS Julio Lugo.
- Castillo's single in the third extended his hitting streak to a season-high 12 games.
- Rabe collected his first major league hit with a single in the seventh.