Detroit — Of course, it came down to a dropped pop-up. A routine pop-up. Why wouldn’t it in this season of abject horror?
The Dodgers beat the Tigers, 3-0, on Saturday – their magical march toward baseball immortality now standing at 87-34. But this game went dark for the home team in the top of the seventh inning.
Michael Fulmer was pitching a gem, arguably his most complete outing of the season. He limited the mighty Dodgers to a pair of singles to that point. He struck out Yasiel Puig looking at a 96-mph fastball and was about to wrap up a 1-2-3 seventh inning and keep the game scoreless.
The newest Dodger, former Tiger Curtis Granderson, hit a pop-up to the left side of the infield. Because the Tigers were over-shifted to the right, third baseman Nick Castellanos was the only fielder on that side.
Still, it had third out written all over it.
Castellanos circled and shaded his eyes and never really found the ball. It landed off to his side and was scored a two-base error.
“No,” Castellanos said when asked if he lost the ball in the sun. “I just missed it.”
Fulmer, whose pitch count was climbing toward 100, walked Yasmani Grandal and then, on a 2-1 pitch, left a 94-mph fastball over the plate – the slowest one he threw all game – and veteran Adrian Gonzalez slapped it into right field, scoring Granderson.
Fulmer, who had lost his four previous starts, went seven innings, allowed three hits with six strikeouts. And he was beaten by an unearned run.
Welcome to Tigers baseball, 2017.
“You can’t give a team like the Dodgers, the best team in baseball, extra outs,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “They took advantage of it.”
Naturally, Fulmer blamed himself.
“I just slipped off the mound a little and left it over the heart of the plate,” he said of the 94-mph fastball to Gonzalez. “I knew there was a right-handed hitter on deck (Logan Forsythe). I started the pitch on the outside corner and if the count went 3-1, it went 3-1. That’s on me for not making a better pitch.”
The Dodgers tacked on two more runs against the Tigers’ bullpen. Alex Wilson gave up a two-out, RBI single to Justin Turner in the eighth and Shane Greene yielded a home run into the visitor’s bullpen in left-center to Grandal in the ninth.
But the indignity had already been suffered.
“It seems like if we score some runs, we give up more,” Ausmus said. “And when we get a good outing from a pitcher, won’t don’t scrape out enough.”
It was the Tigers sixth straight loss. They are 2-12 in their last 14. They are 16 games under .500, an abysmal depth they haven’t sunk to since the end of the 2005 season.
“You come in here and you look within yourself,” Mikie Mahtook said. “We are athletes and you don’t ever want to lose. You just have to keep coming here, compete and play hard. You play for your pride and you play for the other guys in this clubhouse.
“Nobody likes to lose. No matter how far out of it you are, winning is still fun. So we need to keep working our butts off to get out of this.”
The Tigers offense was stilled – limited to four hits – first by the soft-tossing lefty Hyun-Jin Ryu, then the funky stylings of right-hander Ross Stripling, then the power of Brandon Morrow and closer Kenley Jansen. Hitter after hitter looked over-matched, evidenced by the 10 strikeouts.
Ryu blanked them on three hits – two infield singles and a double by Ian Kinsler – through five innings. It was only five innings because he walked four, though only one of those walked batters advanced as far as second base.
Stripling pitched two scoreless innings, allowing a walk with four strikeouts. Morrow, pumping 99-mph heat, allowed only a two-out infield hit by Miguel Cabrera.
Jansen worked a scoreless ninth for his 33rd save.
The Tigers, the loss aside, had to be heartened by Fulmer’s performance.
In his previous four starts, interrupted by a 10-day stint on the disabled list (right ulnar neuritis), he was tagged for 19 earned runs and 29 hits in his last 21.1 innings. And he went searching for a cure.
He threw a flat-ground session the day after his start, which he never does. He watched video and found he was doing something odd when he separated his hands, he wasn’t getting his wrist cocked quickly enough, which threw his timing off.
When you are struggling like you hadn’t struggled in the last two years, you go back to the basics and you trouble-shoot, checking off every box.
“Better,” he said. “I was able to get my (front) foot down before I started my motion home,” he said. “I used the term ‘jumpy,’ I was getting jumpy in my last start against the Rangers and exploding toward home before my front foot hit.
“This (the hand and wrist adjustment) gave me time to get my foot down. My fastball command down in the zone was the best it’s been all year.”
Fulmer threw 47 two-seam fastballs between 95 and 98 mph. He threw one at 94, which Gonzalez drilled to right field to score the run. He got 10 called strikes with the two-seamer, an indication of how lively it was.
His slider was as sharp as it’s been in weeks, as well.
But, he was still kicking himself for walking Grandal and giving up the two-out hit to Gonzalez.
“Just frustrating the seventh inning went the way it did,” he said. “Honestly, it’s only the fact that recently I can't make a pitch with guys in scoring position, I feel like. Just mentally, I feel like I am there. But the last few starts, I just can't get that last pitch I need to get that last out.
“I felt good, my mechanical changes I thought were great today. I was able to get the ball down in the zone. … Ultimately, I just have to take out the positives and work on getting guys out with guys in scoring position.”