HOUSTON (DETROIT FREE PRESS) - Max Scherzer was about to suffer a fate no Tiger pitcher had endured since 1967. But then Ian Kinsler did something no Tiger has done since 1960, and he did so in the most dramatic way.
With the Tigers one out from losing, Kinsler drilled a three-run homer in the ninth to provide a 4-3 win over Houston today.
Scherzer struck out 13 in seven innings and left losing, 2-1. The last time a Tigers pitcher fanned this many and lost in a game that didn't go extra innings came when Mickey Lolich fanned 13 and lost to Boston in September of the Great Race of 1967.
Kinsler's homer, which put the Tigers ahead 4-2, was his second hit of the game. He became the first Tiger since Frank Bolling in 1960 to have seven straight multi-hit games in the same season.
While Scherzer fanned 13, Astros manager Bo Porter struck out in some unconventional relief-pitcher strategy. Porter summoned his closer, Chad Qualls, to face the Tigers big hitters in the eighth. He pitched a scoreless inning.
For the ninth, Porter called on veteran right-hander Jerome Williams, who has onecareer save. Nick Castellanos led off with a single, and pinch runner Austin Jackson went to second on Eugenio Suarez's third hit, a one-out single.
Rajai Davis tried to bunt for a hit and was thrown out. With the runners at second and third, and needing a single to put the Tigers ahead, Kinsler launched a 2-0 pitcher over the fence in left-center.
Kinsler drilled the homer off the same pillar where Tigers manager Brad Ausmus landed the biggest homer of his career. It also came with his team losing and two out in the ninth, in Game 4 of the 2005 division series against Atlanta. With a win, the Braves would have sent the series back to Atlanta for a decisive Game 5; instead, the Astros won in 18 innings to advance to the championship series.
Tigers closer Joe Nathan allowed a leadoff homer in the ninth to Alex Gonzalez to make it a one-run game. He then got a pop-out from Matt Dominguez, fanned Chris Carter (13 homers), and retired Marwin Gonzalez on a fly to center for the final out.
The win went to Phil Coke, who represents Ausmus's first major triumph as a manager in reviving a player. It is Coke's first win in two seasons, since late in 2012. Coke was 0-5 with a 5.40 ERA last season.
"He was on the bubble," Ausmus said of Coke's status in spring training. "We had started to work on some things mechanically, and then I decided I couldn't have him trying something new and trying to make the team. I told him to abandon what we talked about and pitch the best he could."
In early May this season, Coke had a 9.39 ERA. Ausmus stuck with him. And Coke stuck with himself.
"He is tough mentally," said bullpen coach Mick Billmeyer. "He hung in there. When things were bad, he didn't make excuses. He just kept coming ready to go."
In early May, Coke's ERA was 9.39. Now he's unscored upon in nine of his last 10 outings, a span in which he has posted one walk and 10 strikeouts. He's stepped into the late-inning lefty role of the injured Ian Krol.
"He's got his fingers on top of the ball now and he's angling the ball," Billmeyer said. "He picked up some velocity. He's going down through the zone."
In December, 2009, the Tigers gave up Curtis Granderson and acquired Scherzer, Coke and Austin Jackson in the big three-team trade with the Yankees and Diamondbacks. On Saturday, Scherzer fanned 13, Coke got the win, and Jackson scored the tying run as a pinch runner and caught the final out. It's a day you wouldn't trade for anything.
Contact John Lowe: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter@freeptigers.