A strong Rookie of the Year candidate, Liriano walked off the mound because of elbow trouble Wednesday in his highly anticipated return to the Minnesota rotation. After a 1-0 loss to Oakland, manager Ron Gardenhire said Liriano was done for the year.
"Obviously he won't be pitching again," Gardenhire said. "Something is in there bothering and continuing to stop him. ... Obviously when he gets in a game and puts a little extra torque in there, something is not right. We have to make sure we stop it and do what we have to do."
The Twins' lead in the AL wild-card race was cut to 1½ games by Chicago, which beat Los Angeles 9-0.
Liriano slumped off the mound in the third inning. Trainers and Gardenhire immediately rushed out to attend to the All-Star lefty and a hush fell over the crowd that had been so excited to see him back in action.
"The last two pitches I threw, I felt a pop and it really hurts," Liriano said.
Liriano walked slowly toward the dugout and fans gave him a standing ovation -- clearly, they were wondering whether they had seen the last of him this year.
The Twins later said he had pain in his left elbow.
He had an MRI exam after the game, and thoughts immediately turned to Tommy John surgery, a ligament-replacement procedure that typically keeps pitchers out for more than a year.
Liriano said he was waiting to hear from team doctors about the next move.
"I don't even want to think about that," Twins pitching coach Rick Anderson said when asked about Tommy John surgery.
Liriano was 12-3 with a 2.19 ERA before leaving a start against Detroit on Aug. 8 with a strained ligament in his arm.
The Twins were determined to be extra cautious with his recovery, but the 22-year-old Liriano showed no signs of problems during a rehab start for Triple-A Rochester last Saturday.
Everything seemed to be going so well on Wednesday.
Liriano breezed through the first two innings against the A's, striking out two. But after giving up a bloop single to Nick Swisher to start the third inning, Liriano threw ball one to Bobby Kielty and that was it.
"This guy has a bright future," center fielder Torii Hunter said. "Maybe we just need to let him heal for the offseason and have him back for spring training. ... Hopefully he can get it taken care of and come back next year or the year after next."
Haren struck out seven and allowed three hits and Huston Street picked up his 32nd save to help the Athletics avoid their first three-game losing streak since July 23-25.
"Throughout this road trip, our starting pitching hasn't been too good," Oakland manager Ken Macha said. "Danny really answered the call."
The AL West-leading Athletics scored in the sixth.
Milton Bradley singled and stole second base. Replays showed that Twins second baseman Luis Castillo tagged Bradley before he hit the bag, and Gardenhire argued with umpire Randy Marsh.
The call proved costly when Bradley scored on Jay Payton's ground-rule double to give Oakland a 1-0 lead.
Losing Liriano puts an even greater strain on an already rickety Twins rotation. Veteran Brad Radke has a stress fracture in his right shoulder and may not return this season. Carlos Silva has been wildly inconsistent and Scott Baker has pitched poorly.
"I can't make any decision right now," a subdued Liriano said. "This was disappointing. I wanted to pitch. Nobody wants to be hurt. There's nothing I can do about it. I just have to wait and see."
Despite Liriano's injury, the Twins exhibited a quiet confidence in the clubhouse after the game. When the lefty first was injured on Aug. 7, the Twins were 10½ games behind the Tigers. They responded by shaving nine games off the lead between his starts.
"It's not devastating. It's not earth-shattering," Michael Cuddyer said. "It's very disappointing for him on a personal level. But we've been here before."
- After his six-game homer streak ended on Tuesday, A's DH Frank Thomas went 1-for-4 with a double on Wednesday.
- Twins C Joe Mauer, the majors' leading hitter, did not start as usual on a day game after a night game. He lined out to left in a pinch-hit appearance in the eighth inning.