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McCann dumps slump, Tigers take down Rays

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
Detroit Tigers' James McCann looks skyward as he approaches home plate after his two-run home run during the seventh inning.

Detroit  — James McCann was mired in a 4 for 38 rut when he singled in a run Friday night.

Saturday, facing his old college teammate at Arkansas, former Tiger Drew Smyly, he flew out to the wall in right field and then got a bloop single.

This is how you come out of a dark patch. You kick at it until it bleeds light.

McCann kicked it wide open in the seventh inning with a long, two-run home run into the visitor’s bullpen in left-center — his first of the season — breaking a 1-1 tie and sending the Tigers to a 5-4 win over the Rays.

BOX SCORE: Tigers 5, Rays 4

“It's very satisfying to get the results,” he said. “But even more satisfying — if you look at last night, I had one hit but all four at-bats were positive in my mind. It's where I'm trying to get. I'm hitting the ball on the barrel, making hard contact and having quality at-bats.

“So the process is what's important. The results will follow. I'm a big believer in that. That's where I've been trying to get, to get the process right."

It was the second home run McCann has hit off Smyly. In fact, the last two home runs McCann has hit (including his last one of 2015) came off Smyly. But he wasn’t in the mood to gloat.

“I won't remind him about it,” he said. “The way the numbers play out, I think he has the upper hand on me when it's all said and done. I am just glad I could do some damage.”

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But did he have some local knowledge in the pivotal at-bat. Did he know what was coming?

"I was just looking for a pitch to hit,” he said. “It was 3-1 and the go-ahead runner was on first. He didn't want to walk me. I was just looking for a pitch over the plate that I could do some damage with — and he put it there.”

J.D. Martinez, who was 0-for-3 and struck out twice against Smyly, greeted reliever Steve Geltz with a two-run home run to right field to provide the necessary cushion.

The two seventh-inning homers made a much-deserved winner out of rookie Michael Fulmer.

“That’s the best we’ve seen him,” manager Brad Ausmus said.

Fulmer, who came in with an ERA pushing 7.0 and a WHIP pushing 2.0, was overpowering in seven strong innings. He allowed just four hits and struck out a career-best 11.

“Pretty impressed,” said Cameron Maybin, who contributed three more hits, including his first home run. “I got the chance to see him in Toledo and one thing about him is he's not scared. He's not scared of the moment. He seems to embrace the moment and those are the guys you want to play behind, guys that go out, are fearless.

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“He gave us the opportunity to win a ballgame and that's all you can really ask for.”

Things got a little dicey in the eighth inning, though.

Tigers left-hander Justin Wilson was entrusted a 5-1 lead in the eighth inning and nearly gave it away.

With one out, he gave up a two-run triple to left-handed hitting Brad Miller. Wilson then struck out Longoria, but the third strike got past McCann. It was ruled a passed ball and Miller scored. Longoria was safe at first.

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Wilson got out of the inning and closer Francisco Rodriguez made quick work of the Rays in the ninth. He struck out Steven Souza, Jr., and Brandon Jennings, both looking, around a walk and got Curt Casali to ground out to end the game.

That’s a league-leading 12 straight saves for Rodriguez.

“Willie wasn’t as sharp as he normally can be, but K-Rod has been outstanding,” Ausmus said. “He had that blown save on opening day and I think all of Detroit was holding its breath. But he’s a real professional. He’s great with the other pitchers, a real leader for us in the bullpen. He’s been outstanding.”

Speaking of outstanding, how about Maybin. In five games since coming off the disabled list, he’s 11 for 17.

“He’s been unbelievable,” Ausmus said. “He’s either getting a hit or walking and he’s always a threat to steal a base so he distracts the pitcher. Couldn’t really ask any more from a guy just off the DL.”

Maybin’s home run leading off the third was his second home run ever as a Tiger — the first came off Roger Clemens way back in 2007, before he was traded away in the Miguel Cabrera deal.

“It’s all with my approach,” Maybin said. “It’s easy to want to see the ball fly out of the ballpark, but good things happen when I get on base. Scoring runs for me is just as big as hitting a home run. I am going to see how many runs I can score this year and how often I can get on base.”

The Rays, who had won four straight, lost the services of center fielder Kevin Kiermaier in the fifth inning. He bent his wrist back awkwardly and painfully making a diving attempt on McCann’s single. Preliminary reports were that he fractured two bones in his wrist. He was flown to St. Petersburg, Florida,  and will be evaluated on Monday.

“You hate to see that,” Ausmus said. “That’s a guy who plays the game the right way. That was tough to see.”

The win was just the second this season in a game started by a left-handed pitcher. The Tigers are 2-6 in those games.

Twitter: @cmccosky