Ian Kinsler freely admits that his time as the Texas Rangers’ all-time leader in stolen bases will be brief.
Elvis Andrus is stalking him in second place, nine back, and will likely push past Kinsler early next season if current running trends continue.
But Kinsler showed Tuesday night that he is still a threat to take a base, stealing third in a critical situation and putting himself in position to score the go-ahead run in a variety of different ways.
Like a two-out balk.
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Kinsler came home with the decisive run in the 10th inning on a balk against Danny Farquhar just when it looked like a threat would fizzle, and the Rangers eked out a 4-3 victory over the Seattle Mariners.
The win allowed the Rangers to maintain their 2 ½-game lead in the American League West over Oakland, which won a rain-shortened game at Detroit. The Rangers will go for a three-game sweep today at Safeco Field.
“That was huge,” manager Ron Washington said of Kinsler’s steal. “He’s a smart base runner, and he saw an opportunity there and took advantage of it. He got third base and ended up being the winning run.”
The Rangers improved to 11-7 this season against the Mariners, but needed some help in the ninth from Tanner Scheppers and from plate ump C.B. Bucknor after they thought he initially had cost them to start the 10th.
Andrus appeared to have reached to open the inning on an infield hit as the throw to first by Farquhar hit him. But Bucknor ruled Andrus interfered with the throw even though replays showed his foot to be on the base line.
Washington said that the rules states both of the runners feet have to be inside the running lane.
“Nobody runs in that box, but you can’t obstruct the pitcher’s view,” Washington said.
But Kinsler and Adrian Beltre followed with singles, and Kinsler stole third easily as Farquhar didn’t hold him closely and used a high leg kick to deliver his second pitch to A.J. Pierzynski.
There was some rumbling from Farquhar that Kinsler might have stolen a sign that a breaking pitch was coming, making it easier for him to take the base.
“It didn’t matter whether it was a fastball or a curveball. I was stealing that base,” Kinsler said. “I got to second and at least wanted to see a pitch and see what he would give. He gave me a high leg kick, and I anticipated it on the second pitch and was able to take it.”
Farquhar, though, got Pierzynski to pop out and appeared to be headed toward an escape when Bucknor hit him with a balk with Alex Rios batting. Neither Kinsler nor Washington knew what Farquhar had done to catch Bucknor’s attention.
“Nope,” Washington said. “I didn’t ask.”
Farquhar and Mariners manager Eric Wedge watched the replay after the game and agreed with the call. It just took a slight twitch for Bucknor to call a balk.
“He was looking in for his sign, and he started up, and stopped, and moved his left shoulder,” Bucknor said. “Any movement associated with his set position — he doesn’t come and stop — is a balk.”
Said Wedge: “Very subtle but enough where it’s a balk. Just tough luck. First of all, we can’t allow the guy to get to third base.”
Kinsler walked home with the go-ahead run, and Joe Nathan pitched around a one-out single by Kyle Seager and a two-out walk to Justin Smoak for his 38th save.
“Any time you win a hard-fought game, it adds to the confidence of your club and adds to the toughness of the club,” Kinsler said. “We were able to come out on top, so it was a positive for us.”
The Rangers were given a chance at extra innings thanks to Scheppers, who came to the rescue of Neal Cotts in the ninth.
Michael Saunders started the inning with a single off Cotts, who had worked a perfect eighth, and Dustin Ackley followed by popping up a bunt on the next pitch. But Cotts charged initially and saw the ball sail over his head for a hit that left Mariners at first and second with no outs.
Scheppers entered, and got Humberto Quintero to pop up another bunt. Mitch Moreland caught this one for the first out, and Scheppers struck out pinch hitter Nick Franklin and rookie Brad Miller to end the threat.
“I was trying to help Cotts out,” said Scheppers, who had struggled in two of his previous three outings. “A wins a win. The guys were busting their butts all game long. My job is just to go out there and limit the damage.”
Derek Holland struggled from the outset, walking two of the first three batters before issuing an RBI double to Kendrys Morales. Smoak followed with a sacrifice fly for a 2-0 lead and the first two earned runs against Holland in his career at Safeco Field.
The Rangers, though, responded a three-run second against Hisashi Iwakuma. Four straight batters reached with one out, a stretch that started with a double by Rios off the wall in left-center field.
He came around as the next batter, Mitch Moreland, singled to left. Jurickson Profar then walked, and Moreland scored on a single to right by David Murphy.
After Leonys Martin, playing for the first time since Saturday, flied out, Andrus blooped a single to right to score Profar for a 3-2 lead.
Holland worked a wobbly but scoreless second inning, but Franklin Gutierrez started the third with a homer to center field.
“You just have to find that groove,” Holland said. “Today it took me a little bit longer. I was disappointed. The guys got me three runs, and that should be enough for me.”
He and Iwakuma settled in, and neither team scored again until Kinsler stole third in the 10th and was balked home.
“I just saw C.B. calling balk, and I started smiling,” Washington said.