"I was trying to get a good pitch to hit. It doesn't matter when in the at-bat, you got to be ready to hit from the first pitch," Kinsler said after a first-pitch double play he hit into helped Detroit to a 7-5 win over Texas in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series on Thursday. "I'm not just going to go up there and take a pitch -- go up there aggressive and ready to hit."
With the game tied at 2 in the sixth inning, Tigers ace Justin Verlander walked Mitch Moreland on four straight pitches to load the bases and bring up Kinsler. The first pitch the 29-year-old saw was a 99-mph fastball, about belt high on the inside corner -- handleable, Kinsler thought.
Kinsler hit it hard, but he also hit it straight at third baseman Brandon Inge, who took one step to his right onto the bag before completing the inning-ending double play with a throw across the diamond.
"I hit it to third, guy stepped on third and threw to first for a double play," Kinsler said dryly. "Basically what happened. [Verlander] threw me a fastball in, and I hit it to the third baseman."
"Yeah, I was happy," Verlander said. "Fastball down and in. Broken-bat-roller ground ball to Brandon. Basically, exactly how I would have drawn it up. Couldn't have worked out any better."
The Rangers didn't score again until the eighth inning, which the Tigers entered leading, 7-2.
There is a school of thought that says when a pitcher seems to have lost his control, a hitter shouldn't swing until a pitcher rediscovers the strike zone. By that logic, Kinsler should have kept the bat on his shoulder on the first offering.
Another school of thought might have encouraged a swing: Verlander, baseball's winningest pitcher this season, likely wouldn't walk in the go-ahead run in an elimination game for his team. He was going to come with a first-pitch heater -- after all, that's what he had thrown Kinsler in three previous at-bats in the game.
But Kinsler's thinking at the time had nothing to do with any assumptions.
"When a guy's throwing 99 [mph], you don't really have time to expect things," Kinsler said. "When a guy's throwing 85, you don't really have time to expect things. I'm looking for a fastball, I'm looking for a good pitch, it looked like a good pitch and I swung at it.
"When you're hitting, you don't know if he's going to throw a ball or a strike, and you don't know if he's going to throw a curveball or a fastball or a changeup. You need to be ready to hit. He gave me a pitch that I thought I could hit, and I hit it to the third baseman and they turned a double play."
Kinsler led qualifying Rangers in pitches per plate appearance in the regular season with 3.94. In his three earlier plate appearances against Verlander, Kinsler swung at the first pitch once -- fouling a fastball in the fifth -- and had not seen a pitch faster than 97 mph prior to the double-play ball. He saw a combined 15 pitches in the previous trips.
Though Kinsler said he took no comfort in it as the ALCS heads back to Texas on Saturday for Game 6 with the Rangers ahead, 3-2, he did have a strong day otherwise. He scored a pair of runs with a double and a walk in five trips, including a first-inning run off Verlander. Kinsler's on-base percentage this postseason is .381.