‘Lights out’: Fulmer brilliant as Tigers tame Royals
Detroit — When Brad Ausmus came to the mound with two outs in the ninth inning, the tying run due up in three batters, he knew two things: Michael Fulmer was not going to finish his masterpiece and he was going to be lustily booed on his way back to the dugout.
“Trust me, I wanted to see Michael Fulmer go nine innings, too,” Ausmus said. “I also don’t want to give the other team hope.”
In the end, Ausmus got a boo shower, Fulmer got a well-earned standing ovation, Justin Wilson struck out Brandon Moss to end the game and the Tigers beat the Royals 7-3 on Thursday to take the three-game series.
“We’re just trying to win games,” Ausmus said. “It’s good to win a series and it’s good to win a series against a division opponent. We’ve got another one (Cleveland) coming in for four games over three days.
“We’ve got to keep chipping away. Keep winning games and keep winning series.”
Fulmer was brilliant for 8.2 innings. He was at 88 pitches and one out from a complete-game, four-hit shutout. At that point, he had faced just one batter over the minimum.
“He was lights out,” second baseman Ian Kinsler said. “He was close to a Greg Maddux complete game. I wanted to see that. It would’ve been pretty cool.”
It would’ve been. But Ramon Torres singled after an eight-pitch fight. Jorge Bonifacio singled and Drew Butera doubled in both runners. It looked like Fulmer was going to get the complete game, but left fielder Justin Upton dropped a shallow fly ball by Eric Hosmer.
At that point, Ausmus came to get Fulmer — much to the fan’s displeasure.
“Yeah, I apologized to him,” Fulmer said. “I said, ‘Sorry Skip.’ I didn’t want them to have to use anybody in the bullpen. He kind of looked at me and said, ‘Don’t apologize to me. You had a great game.’
“I don’t blame him for the move. I think they about batted around and obviously that can’t happen. I don’t blame him for the managerial move at all. It worked out and we won, that’s all that matters.”
With every win precious now for the Tigers, Ausmus wasn’t going to err on the side of sentimentality.
“I felt the momentum was shifting,” he said. “I didn’t really want to bring it down to the wire where all of a sudden the tying run is at the plate …The most important thing is winning. Could Michael have gotten the last out, maybe — probably, actually.
“But I felt the tide had turned and I wanted to stop the momentum in its tracks.”
Fulmer's effort shouldn’t be discounted because of the ninth inning. Butera’s double was the only extra-base hit he allowed. Three of the hits were erased on double-play balls. He struck out seven and got 11 ground-ball outs. It was his first win since June 2.
“Yeah, he was really good,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “We were hoping to wear him down earlier than the ninth inning with two outs. Just electric fastball, really good slider. I mean, we didn’t even really have any scoring opportunities up until the ninth inning.”
Unlike his last start in San Diego, when he pitched seven, two-hit innings and lost 1-0, the Tigers’ bats backed Fulmer’s gem. They have struggled against no-name and first-year starting pitchers throughout the season, but they did not struggle against Royals right-hander Jake Junis.
Upton mashed a 434-foot three-run home run the first inning to set the tone. His 15th homer landed beyond the visitor’s bullpen in left-center field.
Kinsler led off the third inning with his ninth home run, a high-arching shot to left that hit on top of the bullpen roof, just out of the reach of a leaping Alex Gordon.
And Andrew Romine added a two-run shot in the fourth, his career-high third of the season
The seventh run featured an epic, 15-pitch battle between J.D. Martinez and Royals reliever Kevin McCarthy. Martinez fouled off 11 pitches, eight with two strikes on him. One of the earlier foul balls caromed off his right foot, the same foot he sprained in spring training that landed him on disabled list.
Trainer Kevin Rand came out to check on him, but he wanted to finish the at-bat. He fouled off five more pitches, the crowd rising with each one. Finally he slapped the 15th pitch into left field for an RBI single.
He was immediately removed from the game.
“Great at-bat,” Ausmus said. “Just using caution getting him off his feet to keep it from causing any further damage.”
This was the second-longest outing of Fulmer’s young career (he had a complete-game shutout against the Rangers last season). It also extended his streak of not allowing a home run to 73.2 innings.
“Just one out short,” he said. “I felt like the stuff was good all game. Even that ninth inning, I got two quick outs. I wasn't trying to overdo anything. I felt like they fouled off some great pitches and, ultimately, they just found holes that one inning.
“But I am happy with everything.”