HOUSTON (AP) — When Ian Kinsler hit a three-run homer off Jerome Williams with two outs in the ninth inning to send the Detroit Tigers to a 4-3 win Saturday, it capped a particularly tough stretch for the Houston Astros reliever.
While Williams is certainly unhappy with his recent struggles, he scoffed when asked if this was the toughest span of his career.
“This stretch is nothing compared to what has happened to me before,” he said. “I was out of baseball. This right now, I had an opportunity to save a game. I didn’t do it, so it’s my fault. I take full responsibility for it and try to change it.”
The right-hander was a first-round pick of the Giants in 1999 but didn’t pitch in the majors from 2007 until he was signed out of an independent league by the Angels late in 2011.
Detroit trailed by one before Kinsler sent an 81 mph slider from Williams (1-4) to left-center for a 4-2 lead. Kinsler also had a double in his seventh straight multihit game and 33rd this season.
Astros manager Bo Porter used closer Chad Qualls to face the middle of the order in the eighth, leaving Williams, who has allowed at least one run in eight of his last 11 appearances, to pitch the ninth.
“I made the decision to bring in our best reliever in the eighth inning with the heart of their lineup coming up with the thought process of, we might get to the ninth and there might be nothing to save,” Porter said. “We were not able to close it out in the ninth inning, but if you give me that situation again with that part of the lineup coming up, I’ll do the same thing.”
Porter said he never considered sending Qualls out for a second inning because he pitched on Friday night, too.
Nick Castellanos and Eugenio Suarez singled in the ninth before Kinsler connected. Suarez finished with three hits, including an RBI single in the fifth.
Max Scherzer, last year’s AL Cy Young Award winner, gave up two runs in the first before settling in to strike out a season-high 13. He yielded seven hits and one walk in seven innings.
Phil Coke (1-1) pitched a scoreless eighth and Joe Nathan allowed a leadoff homer to Alex Presley in the ninth before earning his 17th save in 22 chances.
Presley also had a two-run single in the first inning. Jose Altuve extended his tear at the plate, getting two hits with a pair of steals.
It was his major league-leading 34th multihit game this season and seventh in the last 10 games. Altuve leads the majors with 113 hits and the AL with 34 stolen bases.
Houston’s Brett Oberholtzer was recalled from Triple-A Oklahoma City to make a spot start for Dallas Keuchel, who was scratched with inflammation in his left wrist. Oberholtzer allowed five hits and a run in 6 1-3 innings.
Astros rookies George Springer and Jon Singleton hit back-to-back singles with one out in the first inning. Springer advanced to third on Singleton’s hit, and Singleton reached second on the throw. Presley’s hit to center field scored them both to give Houston a 2-0 lead.
Castellanos drew a walk with one out in the seventh and Bryan Holaday singled to chase Oberholtzer. Suarez singled off Josh Zeid to load the bases before Rajai Davis grounded into a force at the plate.
Houston left fielder L.J. Hoes sprinted to make a diving catch on a ball hit by Kinsler to end that threat.
“When I started running, I didn’t think I had a chance,” Hoes said. “I saw the ball dropping, it was a big situation, so I figured I would just go and dive. Presley would back me up, so I thought, why not give it a chance and see what I could do?”
Scherzer had struck out five of six when Marwin Gonzalez singled to start the seventh. But he was caught trying to steal second.
It was the third time Scherzer has struck out at least 13 in his career. He had his most strikeouts since fanning a career-high 15 in 2012 against Pittsburgh.
NOTES: Porter said the Astros don’t think the problem with Keuchel is serious and they expect him to make his next scheduled start. … The series wraps up Sunday when Houston’s Scott Feldman opposes Drew Smyly. … Astros reliever Jake Buchanan, who picked up his first major league win Friday night, was optioned to Triple-A Oklahoma City to make room on the roster for Oberholtzer. … Houston center fielder Dexter Fowler was out of the lineup for the second straight game with tightness in his back. … Altuve became the first player in the majors to get multiple steals in three straight games since B.J. Upton did it for the Rays in 2009. It was Altuve’s fifth straight game with at least one steal, which ties a franchise record.