June 28, 2014 at 10:08 pm

Tigers 4, Astros 3

Ian Kinsler saves Tigers with one mighty swing

Houston — Ian Kinsler, what are you doing two weeks from Tuesday?

Better not make any plans to spend all four days of the All-Star break at home in the Dallas area, because it’s looking more and more like you’ll be heading to Minneapolis as an American League All-Star.

At least, you should be.

And Max Scherzer, who had 13 strikeouts Saturday, probably will be there, too.

With the kind of punch that Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez often provide — but in a series that has seen the two of them go 0-for-18 combined — Kinsler won Saturday’s game for the Tigers against the Houston Astros with one swing.

Down to their last out while trailing by a run, the Tigers went on to beat the Astros, 4-3, when Kinsler’s three-run homer gave them a two-run lead in the top of the ninth.

The Astros countered with a leadoff home run by Alex Presley off Joe Nathan in the bottom of the ninth, but weren’t able to close the gap completely.

So this series now has become an exchange of 4-3 decisions — Friday night’s going to the Astros in 11 innings, Saturday’s going to the Tigers.

For the entire three-city trip, however — on which the Tigers are 7-1 with a game to go — Kinsler has been on a .472 rampage.

If the rest of baseball wasn’t regarding him as a probable All-Star before the trip began, it has to be now — because with four games remaining before the halfway point of the season, he’s hitting .308 with 10 home runs and 42 RBIs.

Plus he’s scored 55 runs.

“He’s meant everything,” Scherzer said after the game, speaking of Kinsler’s value to the team. “He gives you production at the top of the lineup. He does all the little things, hits for power, is a terror on the basepaths, and he plays outstanding defense.

“He’s been great to have on this ballclub.”

Despite his 13 strikeouts, Scherzer didn’t last long enough to get the win, but that was all right with him.

Anything’s all right with him if the Tigers win when he starts.

It was the third time Scherzer has struck out as many as 13 for the Tigers, but until the ninth — because of the two runs the Astros scored in the first on Presley’s two-out single with runners at second and third, and because of the Tigers’ inability to make the most of their chances — it looked like his fine start might be wasted.

For what had occurred when he had a chance to do some damage in those earlier chances, Kinsler was frustrated, but obviously didn’t spend the rest of the game moping.

With a fly ball to right, for instance, Kinsler had made the final out of the Tigers’ fifth when they scored their first run, but only their first run because of a first-and-third chance fizzling with one out.

And in the seventh with the bases loaded and two outs, Kinsler was robbed on a great, sprawling catch by left fielder L.J. Hoes of a hit that might have scored all three runners.

It wasn’t a hard hit ball to left, but especially after Hoes took a step back on a ball in front of him, it looked like it might fall in.

Kinsler’s third opportunity to do some damage proved to be the charm.

But he wasn’t sure at first because the yellow home-run lines change direction in the vicinity of where he hit the ball.

“That’s why I gave it a little signal,” Kinsler said. “I saw it hit above the yellow line. At least I thought it did. But you have to watch it close here.”

The win went to Phil Coke (1-1) for pitching a scoreless eighth inning. That’s 5.1 scoreless innings for Coke in his last six outings.

“He’s been in higher pressure situations and has definitely pitched better,” manager Brad Ausmus. “He’s performed well. We were hoping that the Phil Coke of a few years ago could somehow, some day, return.”

And lately he has.

“In spring training,” said Ausmus, “we talked one-on-one about whatever he had to do to make the team, because he was on the bubble. The hope was to get him into some soft situations early, and it was a little rough at the beginning.

“But his outings have become more intense because he’s been more and more helpful.”

Coke in a one-run game now? No problem.

No, the only second-guessing after this game went to Astros manager Bo Parter, who used his best reliever Chad Qualls to pitch a scoreless eighth, but his worst, Jerome Williams, for the ninth — despite the fact Qualls threw only 12 pitches in the eighth.

Qualls also pitched Friday night, however, and Porter said “I wouldn’t do that to him” when asked why he didn’t sent him back out for the ninth.

They might have rallied anyway, but Tigers are glad he didn’t.



Tigers second baseman Ian Kinsler saved the team with two out in the ninth inning, belting a go-ahead, three-run homer Saturday. / Bob Levey / Getty Images