Oakland, Calif. — Striking out batters is akin to the Old West gunslinger dispatching all those black hats who dare challenge him.
Dramatic and violent, the essence of professional fury.
Michael Fulmer decided Friday to dispense with the Dodge City stuff.
He simply pitched. Cleanly. Efficiently. Skillfully. And, yes, successfully, as in a 4-1 victory by his Tigers against the Oakland A’s.
“Good-looking young pitcher,” said Gene Lamont, who filled in for manager Brad Ausmus as Ausmus took in his daughter’s high-school graduation in San Diego.
“And he’s got an awful good sinker.”
Fulmer, who is 23, looked like a grizzled cuss Friday. A man who seems not to know he’s a rookie threw strikes, kept his fielders busy, and for the most part avoided behind-in-the-count situations, making for fast innings and minimal pitches that enabled him to push ever deeper into a game he controlled for 7 2/3 innings.
The A’s got him on the night for three hits, two to the final batters he faced in the eighth before Justin Wilson arrived to get the last out, whiffing pinch-hitter Billy Butler.
Although he was firing his fastball as hot as 97 mph, mixing in sliders and the occasional change-up, Fulmer didn’t mind that he wasn’t blowing away the strikeout column as he did in his last start, when he had 11 punch-outs.
He had only three Friday as he stayed in the strike zone, accepted that his slider wasn’t its usual murderous self, and in the process ran his record to 4-1. The A’s never scored until the ninth, when Francisco Rodriguez got whacked for a single and triple that kept the Tigers from a shutout.
“I tried to pitch more to contact — just four-seams down in the zone,” said Fulmer, who at one point put away 11 consecutive A’s batters. “I was very thankful the defense played as well as they did.
“I felt like I was always running over to first base,” said Fulmer, who got 13 ground-ball outs, and who said those treks to first base were worthwhile for more reasons than one:
“Miggy was always making me laugh.”
Not nearly as hilarious was Detroit’s offense, which got the minimum from its 11 hits, all because the Tigers early on left too many men at third base or in scoring position.
Not that Ian Kinsler was to blame. He had a triple, double, and single after losing another extra-base hit leading off the game courtesy of a spectacular play by center fielder Billy Burns.
“Yeah, Billy took one away from me in the first,” said Kinsler, who followed up with a drive against the fence in left in the third that got past Coco Crisp for a triple. “I thought that ball (third inning) had a chance of going out. But you never know here. When the sun sets that air gets heavy.”
Nick Castellanos could also take a bow after hoisting an enormous home run nearly into the upper deck in left field in the sixth, his 10th homer of the season, and a bomb that gave the Tigers their third run of the evening. Castellanos also had a single and now sits with a season batting average of .341.
“He can hit long-fly home runs,” said Lamont, shaking his head at Castellanos’ blast. “And not everyone can do that.”
The Tigers had scored a pair in the fourth after two were out when Justin Upton singled, Cameron Maybin drove him home with a double down the right-field line, and James McCann followed with a single that drove home Maybin.
But the Tigers did precious little in situations that might have given Fulmer a fatter and earlier lead.
Second inning. The Tigers get singles from Victor Martinez and Castellanos but watched the next three batters (Upton, Maybin, McCann) disappear on a strikeout, pop-up, and strikeout.
Third inning. Kinsler lashed his one-out triple against the left-field fence. The Tigers were about to shake up a scoreless game. Or, so it seemed, until J.D. Martinez was called out on a third-strike pitch that Martinez believed was well inside and umpire Joe West insisted ate up home plate.
Miguel Cabrera, who walked twice but didn’t have a hit, then grounded out to leave Kinsler hanging.
Fifth inning: No one was quite sure how this happened after Kinsler led off with a double and moved to third on J.D. Martinez’s fly out to right.
Cabrera was intentionally walked to bring on Victor Martinez with runners at the corners. Martinez lofted a foul pop fly that A’s first baseman Yonder Alonso basket-grabbed with his back to the infield.
Kinsler bluffed a tag at third. Alonso pegged the ball to catcher Stephen Vogt, which seemed a bad choice when the ball skipped past Vogt and rolled toward the Pacific Ocean as Kinsler raced home.
There was one problem: Martinez, who had hung on to see if Alonso had made the catch, hadn’t yet stepped terribly far from home plate. The relay nicked Martinez, who in West’s opinion hadn’t cleared the throwing lane. Kinsler was called out by West on the obstruction that went down as your basic 3-2 double play.
“I’d never seen it before,” said Lamont, which seemed to be everyone’s response.
Lamont and West chatted. But the umpire had it right.
“It seems like a funny rule,” Lamont said. “But it’s a rule.”
The Tigers did cash in with a fourth run in the ninth when Kinsler singled and scored on J.D. Martinez’s triple against the right-field fence.
A half-inning later, the Tigers’ six-game West Coast trip had started right. Mostly because the right starter, a kid who doesn’t pitch like one, had worked so artfully, and so very late into an evening he pretty much owned.