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Kinsler's HR puts U.S. on path to Classic title

MLB.com

LOS ANGELES -- Playing in the World Baseball Classic opened up opportunities for Ian Kinsler to hone his game. Joining Team USA put Kinsler in a different environment from his ordinary spring routine and placed him alongside some of the best players from all around the baseball world.

Given the chance to prepare for the season with his U.S. teammates, Kinsler made small mechanical adjustments to his swing while working in the batting cages with National League MVP runner-up Daniel Murphy of the Nationals. The Tigers second baseman credits those sessions and adjustments for the extra lift that allowed his go-ahead home run to escape Dodger Stadium on Wednesday in the World Baseball Classic final, an 8-0 United States victory over Puerto Rico.

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LOS ANGELES -- Playing in the World Baseball Classic opened up opportunities for Ian Kinsler to hone his game. Joining Team USA put Kinsler in a different environment from his ordinary spring routine and placed him alongside some of the best players from all around the baseball world.

Given the chance to prepare for the season with his U.S. teammates, Kinsler made small mechanical adjustments to his swing while working in the batting cages with National League MVP runner-up Daniel Murphy of the Nationals. The Tigers second baseman credits those sessions and adjustments for the extra lift that allowed his go-ahead home run to escape Dodger Stadium on Wednesday in the World Baseball Classic final, an 8-0 United States victory over Puerto Rico.

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"World Series, All-Star Games, MVPs, Gold Gloves, Silver Sluggers, we got it all," Kinsler said. "You try to pick everyone's brain."

Video: USA@PUR: Statcast™ measures Kinsler's two-run home run

Making his second trip to the plate against Puerto Rican starter Seth Lugo, Kinsler belted a 91-mph fastball into the left-center-field stands, putting Team USA ahead, 2-0, in the third. Catcher Jonathan Lucroy got the inning started with a leadoff single, and Kinsler brought him home.

"I thought I popped that ball up and it carried out of here," Kinsler said. "What we've been talking about kind of helped me get that ball to carry a little further, gave me a little more power."

:: 2017 World Baseball Classic ::

Kinsler's homer, his first in the Classic, had a launch angle of 31 degrees. The Tigers second baseman has a knack for getting good lift on the ball. In fact, few players have excelled at it as much as Kinsler in the Statcast™ era since the beginning of the 2015 season. Of 141 hitters who have put at least 600 balls in play in that span, he ranks fourth with a 18-degree average launch angle. His 39 home runs in that stretch have averaged a 31-degree angle.

The U.S. threatened again in the inning by pushing another runner in scoring position -- Adam Jones followed Kinsler's homer by drawing a seven-pitch walk, then reached second on a wild pitch -- but Lugo rebounded to strike out the side, fanning Christian Yelich, Nolan Arenado and Andrew McCutchen.

Kinsler also helped Team USA extend its lead in the fifth, leading off the inning with a base hit and then coming around to score on Yelich's RBI single. It was a lead Team USA would never relinquish as it shut out an unbeaten Puerto Rican team en route to the United States' first Classic title.

Video: USA@PUR: Yelich chases Lugo from game with RBI single

"It's a huge win for American baseball," Kinsler said. "It was just a great tournament. I think after the fact, tomorrow, the next day, the next day after that, we'll start to realize what we accomplished as a group so quickly, to come together so quickly."

Chad Thornburg is a reporter for MLB.com based in Los Angeles.

United States, Detroit Tigers, Ian Kinsler