Detroit — At least Ian Kinsler gave the group of scattered die-hards who stuck around to the end of the Tigers’ home finale something to cheer about.
On the verge of being swept Sunday by the Twins, blown out for the third straight game, there were still fans scattered around the lower deck chanting, “Let's go Tigers,” as Kinsler came to bat with two outs in the bottom of the ninth.
“Amazing,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “We didn’t have a good season but the fans were still there supporting us. This is a really good baseball town.”
Kinsler rewarded their loyalty and perseverance with a two-run home run, his 22nd, which made the final score 10-4. It was the Tigers' seventh straight loss.
“It might get a little lean around here for a few years, but the Tigers will be back and the fans will be there to support them,” said Ausmus, who will not manage the club after this season. “They’ve always been there.”
Kinsler’s home run came on his fifth plate appearance of the day. That is significant because it puts him two plate appearances short of reaching 600 this season. At 600 plate appearances, which should come Tuesday in Kansas City, Kinsler’s $11 million salary becomes guaranteed for 2018.
Had he not reached 600 plate appearances, the Tigers could have bought him out for $5 million.
Whether he returns to the team next season as one of the leadership pillars of the rebuilding process remains to be seen. Almost certainly the Tigers will explore trade options for Kinsler.
“If they bring me back and they want me to be part of the leadership, then that will be discussed in the off-season,” Kinsler said. “And if so, I would probably prepare for that a little differently.
“Right now, I just want to finish off these six games and see what happens in the off-season. There will probably be plenty of rumors about where I’m going. But the vesting (guaranteed salary) doesn’t really play into that.”
Kinsler, who is 35, said he has the power to modify his 10-team no-trade list if he needs to. He also said general manager Al Avila has not talked to him about the plans going forward, but he expects that meeting to take place after the season.
“It’s pretty self-explanatory what direction the team is going,” Kinsler said. “If they want me to be a part of it or not, that’s a decision they need to make. For me, I am going to treat the off-season the same way I always have — just prepare for next year the best I can.
“If they decide to trade me, then I will make the adjustments I need to make. If not, then I am coming back to a place I am very familiar with. It’s up to Al (Avila, the Tigers' general manager).”
It’s been a rough season for Kinsler. He’s hitting a career-low .236. But he’s found his power stroke these last two months. His home run Sunday was his eighth in September and 13th since Aug. 3.
“I am swinging the bat a little better,” he said. “I am having a lot more competitive at-bats. Before my fifth at-bat today, my first four were not good. But I do feel like I am having a lot better at-bats more consistently and that’s all I really wanted coming down this last month.”
Other than Kinsler’s late blast, the Tigers didn’t give the small crowd (announced at 23,882) much else to remember them by, except at the end when they literally gave fans the jerseys off their backs.
“For them to stick around like that, even despite the way this season has gone, that meant a lot,” catcher James McCann said.
The cumulative score in this three-game series was Twins 39, Tigers 12. Sunday marked the ninth game this month the Tigers have allowed at least 10 runs in a game.
“It’s disappointing the way the season went,” Ausmus said. “When you start out, every team is hoping for big things. It just didn’t work out that way. It wasn’t for a lack of effort, but still — disappointing.”
Tigers starter Buck Farmer continued his enigmatic ways. At times, his three-pitch arsenal seems unhittable. He struck out five in five innings against the Twins Sunday and had 10 swings and misses and 18 called strikes in 98 pitches.
And yet, when he left the game after five innings, he’d been scratched for five runs (four earned) and seven hits. Farmer’s outing was akin to a good ball-striking golfer who struggles to make putts. He made a lot of good pitches, but in the end didn’t score very well.
“It’s just consistency,” McCann said. “Every player, whether they’ve been around 20 years or 20 days, you are going to go through spurts where it’s not consistent. But the really, really good ones are the ones that limit their mistakes and expand on their good pitches.”
Farmer gave up a solo home run to Jorge Polanco in the first inning, an at-bat that epitomized how Farmer befuddles. He was ahead of Polanco 0-2, getting him to look at a well-placed fastball at 92 mph and a slider at 77.
But he left the 0-2 pitch, another fastball, up and over the plate. Polanco thanked him by depositing the ball in the right field seats.
“Part of it is being young and hitters are taking advantage of pitches that aren’t executed,” Ausmus said. “But it also goes to the stuff that when he does execute a pitch, he gets swings and misses. So in that sense, it bodes well for him.”
The Tigers bullpen doubled down on Farmer’s yield. Shredded for eight runs in two innings Saturday, the bullpen turned a 5-2 game into a 10-2 rout with a five-run sixth inning — capped by a three-run, 416-foot home run by Eduardo Escobar off Victor Alcantara.