Most of the attention for tonight's victory will (correctly) go to Francisco Liriano and his impressive pitching performance. After all, he went 8 innings on the road against a Detroit Tigers lineup that was desperate to show the Twins that they should be considered competitors this year. He overcame numerous offensive letdowns. And he was simply dominant, announcing to anyone that still doubts him that this winter, spring, and April have not been a fluke.
But for all that effort, the Twins still only led by two runs going into the ninth inning, and seven pitches later the game was seriously in doubt. Johnny Damon had singled on the second pitch and Magglio Ordonez had worked a full count. He bounced that eight pitch to the left side of the diamond, far enough from third baseman Alexi Casilla (who was correctly hugging the third base line) that he wouldn't have had a chance. And in previous years, it was the kind of groundball that a Twins shortstop would've just missed or stopped but not converted to an out.
This was not previous years. JJ Hardy ranged to his right, picked it up and rifled a throw to second base to get the lead runner.
How big was that play? Ironically it was about as big as anything else anyone in the lineup did.
If you look at all MLB baseball games played between 1977 and 2006, there have been 1689 games that the same situation that the Twins had when that play was over: a two-run lead, one out, in the bottom of the ninth with a runner on first base. The visiting team has won 155 of them, or 90.8%
But if that play wasn't made? If it ended with runners on first and second and no outs, the visiting team has won just 72% of the games. So that single play increased the Twins chances of wining that game by 19%.
I'm not going to claim there is a morale to this story. I just thought I should point it out, since I don't think there is a single statistic that is going to do it justice.