Kinsler latest to lead Tigers' walk-off hit parade
Second baseman also belts first homer to help ensure series victory
DETROIT -- Max Scherzer began the follow-up effort to his American League Cy Young Award season in much the same fashion that his award-winning 2013 campaign started. All that was missing was the win.
He didn't get it. The Tigers eventually did.
"I'm going to have to have a discussion with [hitting coach] Wally [Joyner]. He doesn't realize I lead the league in run support," Scherzer joked after Ian Kinsler's 10th-inning single off Royals lefty Tim Collins earned the Tigers their second straight walk-off victory, 2-1.
It's the first time since 1901, the Tigers' inaugural season, that they opened a season with back-to-back walk-off wins, according to Elias Sports Bureau. It's the first time any Major League team has done it since the 2004 Twins.
When Scherzer went 13-0 to begin last season, he continually downplayed it, calling the win a "fluky" statistic that doesn't accurately reflect the quality of a pitcher. He still ended up winning the AL Cy Young Award with a 21-3 record. He had the highest run support in the Majors, but he had a lot of other statistics to support him.
The first start of his follow-up campaign -- and his contract year -- ended up supporting Scherzer's argument. After his eight scoreless innings had him picking up where he left off from a 2013 season in which seemingly everything went right, plenty went wrong, from a similar gem by Jason Vargas in his Royals debut to Joe Nathan's first blown save in 20 chances at Comerica Park.
"It makes my outing feel a lot better when we're able to win a game," Scherzer said. "It's probably the worst part of this job when you come in after blowing one and giving up the lead. It's the most nerve-wracking time when you're up here watching the game and just hoping we can walk away with a win."
It was the first time in Scherzer's Major League career that he didn't earn a win for seven or more shutout innings. Considering the Tigers ended up with a second straight win against a Kansas City club seen as potentially Detroit's biggest obstacle to a fourth consecutive AL Central crown, Scherzer didn't mind.
"I did a great job of pitching deep into a game," Scherzer said. "Eight innings in a first start is a great thing to do, especially with the game where it was."
In other words, he wasn't kicking things in the clubhouse during extra innings. He had already done that earlier.
Scherzer had issues from the outset, seemingly out of sync as he walked Nori Aoki and gave up an Omar Infante single. With runners at the corners and one out, Scherzer fell behind on a 3-0 count to Billy Butler, forcing him to either throw strikes of risk facing Alex Gordon, 11-for-28 with two home runs lifetime against him.
Butler not only swung at the 3-0 pitch, he hit a ground ball straight at Alex Gonzalez for an inning-ending double play.
"I'm not mad at myself for swinging at that," Butler said. "I got the green light, got a good pitch to hit and just got a bad result."
That bought Scherzer the time he needed to adjust and settle in, scattering three singles over the next seven innings. The only physical adjustment Scherzer made was changing shirts from long sleeves to short ones. The main tweak was mental, and not from an abundance of adrenaline.
"If anything, I was too relaxed," Scherzer said. "I was just kind of going through the motions at first. I got upset about that, so I came up here, started kicking some things, kicking the laundry bin, fired myself up."
He wasn't kidding.
"My thing is, I'm aggressive," Scherzer said. "I'm going to attack the zone. I respect all the hitters, and I really respect what they do over there, but I'm going to be aggressive right back at you. That's something I wasn't able to do in the first."
Scherzer allowed four hits with a walk and seven strikeouts. Vargas nearly matched him, allowing five hits over his seven innings of one-run ball with a walk and six strikeouts. Until the ninth, the extra hit loomed large.
Kinsler talked during Spring Training about looking to hit line drives into the gaps for doubles and triples at Comerica Park after hitting for power over much of his Texas tenure. His first hit as a Tiger, though, was a drive over the fence in left-center field off a hanging curveball.
"The line drive carried [in the fourth]," Kinsler said. "The base hit in the 10th was a little more like it, but you can't complain about a ball that went over the fence."
It was the first hit and the only run Vargas allowed in his first start after signing a four-year, $32 million contract in the offseason to bolster Kansas City's rotation.
That difference held until Nathan, who was 19-for-19 in career save chances against the Tigers at Comerica Park before joining Detroit on a two-year contract this past offseason, entered for the ninth with the top of the Royals order due up and loaded the bases with one out on a Infante single and back-to-back walks.
"You put yourself into a bases-loaded one-out situation with Gordon coming up, you hope for the best," Nathan said, "but in that spot you want the worst-case scenario [to be] he hits a fly ball to the opposite field and ties the game, and we've still got a chance to win the game."
Gordon's fly ball to left was deep enough to easily score pinch-runner Pedro Ciriaco. Al Alburquerque earned the win with a scoreless 10th, helped by a replay challenge that turned what was originally an Aoki infield single into the third out.
Kinsler's 10th-inning gapper went in the same direction as his home run, scoring Austin Jackson. It was the only hit allowed by Collins, whose walks to Jackson and Nick Castellanos kept the inning going for the batting order to come back around.