Sometimes you gotta work the count

Hindsight is always 20/20. Without the benefit of hindsight, I’m not able to write this. But with that in mind, the turning point of today’s ALCS game in Detroit happened because a Rangers’ batter failed to employ just a little bit of baseball strategy. And as a result, his team missed a chance to get back to the World Series. They’ll have other chances this weekend, but this one they let get away from them.

It was the bottom of the fifth inning, and the Tigers were on the ropes. Already down 3 games to 1, they were just one big play away from elimination. Those kinds of things seem to happen with Nelson Cruz at the plate in this series. But the batter at the pivotal moment wasn’t Cruz, but Ian Kinsler.

Kinsler came up after the Tigers’ Jason Verlander had just walked the bases loaded. Two of the Tigers’ relievers were unavailable to come in, and Verlander had already gone over 100 pitches for the game. In other words, he was in some serious trouble. All Texas had to do was deliver the knockout punch.

Kinsler came to the plate, and impulsively decided to swing at the first pitch he saw. The result was a ground ball to third base, which Brandon Inge turned into an easy double play. Inning over, advantage Tigers. And they would then take full advantage of this momentum swing by scoring four runs in the bottom of the inning.

Would there be any harm in taking that first pitch, if you’re Ian Kinsler? If so, I can’t imagine what it might be. If Verlander threw a ball and fell behind in the count, the pressure on him would have increased considerably. The “take” sign should have been on in this situation, at least until Verlander threw a strike. This would have forced him to battle with Kinsler a little bit more than he did. As it was, a better result could not have happened for the Tigers, nor a worse result for the Rangers.

Detroit still has to win in the Rangers’ park to keep their season going. They are decidedly the underdogs in this series, and will remain so even if a seventh game should be necessary. But they have lived to fight another day, and those who had tickets for Game six in Texas–along with everyone else who just wants this series to continue–is thankful for that.

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