Updated: May 4th, 2010 9:50pm
J.J. Hardy rescues Twins in triumph over Tigers

J.J. Hardy rescues Twins in triumph over Tigers

by Tom Pelissero
1500ESPN.com
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MINNEAPOLIS -- The ninth inning belonged to J.J. Hardy on Tuesday night.


The Minnesota Twins' shortstop made a sparkling defensive play to keep the go-ahead run from scoring in the top half, then ripped a triple in the bottom half and scored on a wild pitch to down the Detroit Tigers 4-3 at Target Field.

Nick Punto lifted Hardy into the air after he crossed the plate, touching off a raucous celebration on the field.

"Everyone was just throwing punches," Hardy said. "I was getting beat up. My ribs were getting punched. It was fun."

Hardy also had an RBI single in the sixth inning for the Twins (18-9), whose first walk-off win since the tiebreaker game last Oct. 6 against Detroit sets up a chance for a series sweep of their American League Central rivals at 12:10 p.m. Wednesday.

Activated from the family emergency list earlier in the day, Twins right-hander Nick Blackburn went all nine innings on Tuesday and was highly efficient, throwing only 95 pitches (67 strikes). But it appeared a win had slipped away with one hanging curveball to Brennan Boesch, who blasted a leadoff home run in the ninth to knot the score at 3.

Detroit (16-12) threatened to take the lead later in the inning when backup catcher Alex Avila -- on in place of injured Gerald Laird (bruised shin) -- ripped a two-out double off Delmon Young's glove deep in left field. The next batter, pinch hitter Ramon Santiago, grounded a single that appeared headed through the hole on the left side of the infield. But Hardy made a diving stop, waited for Avila to run too hard around third and then threw to third baseman Nick Punto, who chased down Avila between third and home.

"That was basically my only play," Hardy said. "So, when he took a big turn, I just threw the ball to Nicky and let him do the rest."

Minutes later, with one out in the bottom of the ninth, Hardy hit a blast to left-center field off reliever Ryan Perry that caromed long off the wall, allowing him to speed to third.

The next batter, Wilson Ramos, took an 0-1 slider in the dirt that skipped past Avila, and Hardy crossed the plate without a throw.

"I guess it (bounced) pretty high," Hardy said. "I didn't see it -- I just saw (Avila) running in after it."

The Twins scored twice with two outs in the first inning on a Jim Thome double to the gap and a Delmon Young flare to right. Detroit evened the score at 2 with four consecutive singles to start the fourth.

Michael Cuddyer's one-out double chased Tigers starter Dontrelle Willis in the sixth. Then, with Joel Zumaya on in relief, Delmon Young beat out an infield single and Hardy ripped a single up the middle that scored Cuddyer and put the Twins back in front 3-2.

That held up until Boesch's leadoff blast in the ninth, which landed in the standing room-only section along the second deck in right-center field.

Right-hander Kevin Slowey (3-2, 3.77 ERA) for Wednesday's series finale against Detroit righty Rick Porcello (2-2, 8.03).

Tom Pelissero is Senior Editor and columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He hosts from 6 to 8 p.m. weeknights and co-hosts from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
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