'Catalyst' Kinsler leads Tigers' charge over Yankees

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
Tigers' Ian Kinsler, right, is high-fived at home plate with Justin Upton (8) and Jose Iglesias (1) after Kinsler's three-run home run in the fifth inning Saturday.

New York — Ian Kinsler didn’t believe it.

Told that his five-RBI performance Saturday — which triggered the Tigers’ 6-1 win against the Yankees — was the first of his career, Kinsler seemed chagrined.

“I’ve never had five RBIs in a game before?” he asked, incredulously. “That’s terrible.”

It was decidedly not terrible. A night after the Tigers were shutout by CC Sabathia and company, Kinsler put the offense on his back.

He ambushed a first-pitch fastball from right-hander Masahiro Tanaka in the fifth inning and wrapped his 12th home run of the year around the left-field foul pole. It was a three-run shot that broke a 1-1 tie.

BOX SCORE: Tigers 6, Yankees 1

“I still don’t think it’s fair,” said Kinsler, who didn’t immediately run after he hit it. “I thought that was going to move foul. But there was heavy air tonight. It was pretty humid out there and it kept it pretty straight.”

Then in the seventh, Kinsler knocked a two-run double off the wall in center field off reliever Kirby Yates to extend the lead.

“Ian’s kind of been our Steady Eddie,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “He plays all the time, hits in the same spot in the order and he’s always very intense and into the game. I don’t want to call him a spark plug, because that implies he doesn’t have any power.

“But, he’s a catalyst and he brings a little attitude to the park, in a good way.”

How good has Kinsler been of late? Since May 31, he is hitting .333 (15-for-45) with 16 RBIs. The five-RBI night was the first by a Tigers since Nick Castellanos, who also hit his 12th home run Saturday, did it against the Cubs last August.

“Honestly, I am just trying to get on base for the guys behind me,” Kinsler said. “Just trying to put up good at-bats and trying to get the barrel of the bat on the ball and good things are happening.

“Obviously, the more experience you get, the more comfortable you get and the more you learn about yourself and the game. Right now I am just trying to help us win games any way I can.”

The win helped staunch some of the club’s road bleeding. It was just their fifth in the last 18 road games, and their first in 14 road games not started by right-hander Michael Fulmer.

Justin Verlander recorded another first, too. He notched his first win at the new Yankee Stadium. He had been 0-4 in seven starts in the Bronx. His last and only win in New York came at the old yard, back in 2007.

“I know I pitched well here and lost and I also know I had some clunkers here,” Verlander said. “I am just glad to get this one.”

This was hardly a clunker. It was a continuation of the dominance he’s shown over his last six starts, allowing one run and five hits in 6.2 innings. He struck out five and walked only one.

“I felt all right,” said Verlander, though he didn’t get through the seventh for the first time in seven starts. “That third inning zapped me a little bit with all the humidity. But I was able to stay out there and save the bullpen as much as I could. The guys put up some runs against a good pitcher and it was a good team win.”

The run came in the 28-pitch third inning. He lost a 10-pitch battle to Chase Headley. The 10th pitch was a 96-mph fastball that Headley, batting left-handed, sliced toward the foul pole in left. The ball hit just beneath the pole and caromed away from Justin Upton.

Headley eased in with a triple. The play was reviewed to see if it hit the pole, but the call stood.

Rob Refsnyder hit the next pitch Verlander threw for an RBI single.

That was essentially it for the Yankees. Verlander put down 13 of the next 15 hitters before exiting with two outs in the seventh after a two-out double by Didi Gregorius on his 106th pitch.

“He’s been like this the last seven starts,” Kinsler said. “He establishes the fastball, throwing it inside when he needs to and he’s got a lot of weapons to choose from off of that. He’s made an adjustment with his slider and his curveball, and now he’s able to throw his change-up when he wants.

“He’s keeping guys off-balance. When he has all four pitches working, he’s pretty tough.”

In his last seven starts, Verlander has allowed 11 runs in 51.1 innings (1.93 ERA), with 57 strikeouts.

After Verlander departed, Ausmus called on two former Yankees to maintain order. First Shane Greene, who finished the seventh with a three-pitch strikeout of Headley.

After Greene struck out Refsnyder to start the eighth, left-hander Justin Wilson was summoned. He got Jacoby Ellsbury to foul out to catcher James McCann and Brett Gardner to line out to Castellanos, who made a full, layout dive and snared the ball.

There was unnecessary drama in the ninth. Alex Wilson got the first two hitters out, then loaded the bases with two walks and an infield single. Closer Francisco Rodriguez had to be rushed into the game, his first work since Sunday.

“We were debating whether to bring him in to start the ninth,” Ausmus said. “But with the quick turnaround (2 p.m. start Sunday), we decided against it.”

Rodriguez threw three pitches, getting Headley to ground to first to record his 18th straight save.

Twitter: @cmccosky