DETROIT -- Before Monday night's game, Ian Kinsler pulled James McCann aside for a talk. Get positive, stay positive. The Detroit Tigers are at .500 and it's a demon of their own making, as Kinsler was ready and willing to admit. The Tigers need more than looking at every game as "just another win." There has to be a point where the Tigers do more than win a game, lose a game.
And there comes a time when you have to pick a game and decide to build off of it. For Kinsler, Monday night -- a 5-4 come-from-behind win -- was that game.
"It has to be," Kinsler said. "You have to start somewhere. We're back to .500 and hopefully we can take off from here and get the ball rolling. You just never know, you gotta get ready for every game. Winning in this fashion doesn't guarantee anything and you have to be ready to play. Those guys are fighting, also, every team in the league is fighting every night and it's not easy. We gotta be ready every day."
It wasn't that Kinsler thought that the team has been negative or players were getting down on themselves or each other. But he also was quick to note how repetitive losses can inadvertently drag players, and eventually, a team down. The Tigers have been fighting just about every bad combination available this season that it can be difficult to see the positives.
From the injuries and the poor pitching when the team is hitting well, to the dry offense when the pitching was at its best and it seemed like no one else in the AL Central was losing. It gets old real quick, and 162 games is a long time. The Tigers needed this win like they needed oxygen on a lifeless planet. And for Kinsler to get the go-ahead home run on Mariners reliever Mike Lowe, a guy who hadn't given up a home run at all this season, it was crucial to the team, and the fans.
"I think, obviously, positivity is a little easier to carry than being negative all the time," Kinsler said. "Being negative can drain you. It takes energy away, it gets you down, it separates everybody. When you're positive you tend to communicate with everyone and you're upbeat. It makes things a lot easier. That's the way we should be."
Kinsler's first home run in the first was heavily aided by the Comerica Park wind blowing straight to left field. It looked like a flyout that just kept going, and going, until it went over the wall. It put some life into the team, and the crowd, and it continued through the second inning when McCann drilled a two-run double down the left field line. But that's all the team would get until the eighth. The crowd was nearly silent. The ballpark had that feeling that everyone expected another loss.
That was, until Jose Iglesias' one-out smoked double in the eighth. It sparked something. It woke up the team. And when the ball left Kinsler's bat, the Tigers' dugout lost it and went into "pandemonium," Tigers manager Brad Ausmus remarked after the game. It wasn't just what the team needed at that moment, it was a moment the team had needed this year.
"It was definitely a relief," Rajai Davis said. "A sigh of relief. When that ball left his bat, wow. That's a clutch moment. That's a moment where you remember those things. I think we were just expecting it, to somehow pull through. J.A. (Happ), he did a good job, limited us to the hits that we did get and causing us to hit the ball dead at his guys. Cause we hit the ball hard several times. But that's how it is in baseball, they got guys positioned in the right spot and you just gotta deal with it."
The Tigers have been dealing with bad luck, poor pitching, a dry offense, and injuries to their best players all year. There's no way to know what will happen in the next game. But something has to work. At some point the team has to break through the season-long slump they've been. Maybe Monday night was that night, maybe it wasn't. But the Tigers won't know until they play another game. Lowe made a mistake. Recently, mistakes have translated to missed opportunities for Detroit. Kinsler didn't miss this time, though.
A bullpen that has struggled to be a point of strength, didn't waver, however, getting 10 of the final 12 batters out. Al Alburquerque was on top of his game, striking out two in his inning of work. Blaine Hardy went 1 1/3 innings and gave up just one single. And Joakim Soria, struggling with his own demons lately, needed just 13 pitches to give the Tigers a desperately needed 1-2-3 inning, striking out slugger Nelson Cruz to end the game. And if the Tigers can remain positive and refocus their season, anything is possible.
"Good teams are positive," Kinsler remarked. "Good teams talk to each other throughout the game, in the dugout, on the field, wherever it may be. That's something that needs to continue in here. We can't stop doing that just because we hit a little bit of a rough stretch. We gotta continue to fight and continue to support each other. Crazier things have happened and we're still a long ways from this season being over. Shoot, there's always something every year in baseball that surprises people, so why not us?"