All in a Hardy day's work, Twins walk off
Shortstop makes key defensive play, scores game-winner
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Twins have celebrated walk-off wins before, but to have one come on a wild pitch like Tuesday night? Well, the Minnesota players couldn't help but admit that they had to think a little about how to celebrate such a play."It was a little weird, but we'll take it," Twins outfielder Denard Span said. "A win is a win, and any time you can get a win, especially from Detroit, we'll take it." Leave it to the Twins to make the first walk-off win at Target Field a unique one. The Tigers tried to ruin Nick Blackburn's complete-game performance when Brennan Boesch led off the ninth inning with a game-tying home run to deep right field. Even though there was some drama over the final frame, it was the Twins who came out on top when J.J. Hardy scored on a wild pitch in the bottom of the ninth to capture a 4-3 victory over Detroit. It was the play of Hardy -- both in the field and at the plate -- in the ninth that helped the Twins walk off on Tuesday night, ensuring the club of its eighth series victory of the season. After Boesch's home run tied it, Alex Avila hit a two-out double to put the go-ahead run in scoring position. That's when pinch-hitter Ramon Santiago hit a grounder between third and short, which Hardy snagged with a diving stop. Hardy then made a heads-up play to make a throw from his knees to third baseman Nick Punto, who caught Avila in a rundown after the Tigers catcher had rounded third base too quickly with his head down. "I was just trying to get to that ball and knock it down so that he wouldn't score," Hardy said. "I came up with it, turned and threw the ball to Nick and let him do the rest." After Punto tagged Avila in the rundown, Blackburn -- who made his return to the mound for the Twins following a three-day absence from the team due to a family matter -- pounded his fist into his glove and let out some emotion. "That was unbelievable. I couldn't believe he rounded the way he did," Blackburn said of Avila. "I figured, for sure, I was about to be dealing with first and third. But that was a huge play for us. ... We could have still been playing if J.J. doesn't make the catch in the first place." But for Hardy, the defensive play was just the start of what would turn into a memorable inning for the Twins' new shortstop. With the game still tied at 3 heading into the bottom of the ninth, Hardy drilled a one-out triple high off the left-center-field wall. With one out in the ninth and Wilson Ramos batting, the Twins had the winning run just 90 feet from home plate. Then Tigers reliever Ryan Perry uncorked a wild pitch that skipped past Avila behind the plate and allowed Hardy to score standing up. "It was a good angle for me to see where it was going from third base," Hardy said of the wild pitch. "It kicked to his left instead of straight behind him." It was the Twins' first walk-off victory since that infamous 12-inning victory in Game 163 over this same Tigers club last October. Hardy's big ninth inning also ensured a victory for Blackburn, who was greeted with a standing ovation from the home fans when he headed back to the mound for the ninth inning, having thrown just 85 pitches through eight. Despite giving up the game-tying homer, the night was a welcome rebound for Blackburn. The Twins right-hander had entered the contest having posted a team-high 6.85 ERA over his first four starts. But on this night, he got his sinker working and was effectively able to shut down the Tigers, while his offense was able to score what seemed to be just enough runs off starter Dontrelle Willis. In his previous start, Willis had shut out the Twins for six-plus innings; however, they managed to tag him for three runs on four hits over 5 1/3 innings. Minnesota took a 2-0 lead in the first after Jim Thome stroked an RBI double to left-center, and Delmon Young added an RBI single. The Tigers managed to make it a tie game in the fourth inning. Blackburn, who had originally been scheduled to start this past Friday in Cleveland before his start was pushed back, gave up four consecutive singles to begin the fourth, including RBI knocks by Magglio Ordonez and Miguel Cabrera to pull the Tigers even at 2. Willis retired a stretch of 12 straight batters, but the Twins would get one more run off the Tigers southpaw before his night was over. Michael Cuddyer doubled off the out-of-town scoreboard in right-center field with one out in the sixth. Right-hander Joel Zumaya replaced Willis following the double. Cuddyer advanced to third on an infield hit by Young, and Hardy drove in the go-ahead run for the Twins with his single up the middle. Hardy's offense was key on Tuesday, but in the end, most of the credit went to the shortstop's defense. His play in the ninth was something that everyone wanted to talk about after the game, and Twins manager Ron Gardenhire lauded his shortstop for his tremendous play so far this year. "He's kind of fun to watch out there at shortstop," Gardenhire said. "He reminds me a lot of a Greg Gagne that just never seemed to miss anything and made all the plays and made them look routine. That's the way Gags was out there. I think Hards reminds me a lot of him." Hardy certainly made the key plays for the Twins, but he was admittedly a little banged up following the walk-off celebration. As he spoke with reporters, Hardy had an ice wrap on his left wrist, which he said was just a little sore from the post-victory celebration. "In the huddle, everyone was throwing punches," Hardy said. "I was just getting beat up. My ribs were getting punched. But it was fun."
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.