Cleveland — It was after the loss Saturday night, after the Tigers fell to 10 games under .500, the clubhouse was a quiet as a tomb. Manager Brad Ausmus was in his office answering questions about whether he thought his team could regain its footing before it gets decimated by trades.
“The only thing I’m going to do is come here Sunday and try to win a game,” he said. “I am not going to worry about anything else. Whatever happens surrounding the team is not my concern. My concern is trying to win (Sunday) before going into the break.”
That was the prevailing sentiment of the players, too, and while they still face a seriously uphill climb in the second half, they will be able to take gritty 5-3 win over the Indians into the All-Star break.
“We salvaged a win and we can go into the break not feeling sour about everything,” Ausmus said after the win. "Hopefully guys have a nice four-day break, reset and come back ready to go.”
All the elements that had been absent during the recent 6-14 tumble were present on a getaway night Sunday at Progressive Field — strong starting pitching, clutch work from the bullpen, fiercely competitive at-bats and timely hits.
“I think it was huge to win this game,” said Alex Presley, who delivered the biggest hit, a two-run double in the sixth inning. “Maybe it doesn’t move us up much in the standings but mentally, going into the break, it’s definitely
The Tigers chased Indians ace Corey Kluber after five innings — pushing his pitch count over 100 with some long, grinding at-bats — and then broke a 1-1 tie with three runs off the Indians bullpen in the sixth.
Miguel Cabrera and Nick Castellanos worked walks around a Victor Martinez single to load the bases with one out against right-hander Nick Goody.
Dan Otero, another right-hander, was summoned to face left-handed hitting Presley. Presley delivered a two-run double off the left-field chalk line. Castellanos scored on an infield hit by Jose Iglesias.
“I couldn’t tell if it stayed fair,” said Presley, who in two starts since coming off the concussion protocol has produced four hits, two walks and two RBIs. “I thought it would stay true. I was definitely sweating it on second base whether it would be reviewed or not.
“Just trying to seize the opportunity and do something to help the team win.”
Castellanos drove in the fifth run, winning a long battle with Otero and spanking a two-out, RBI single. He fouled off four pitches with two strikes before knocking one into left field.
Turns out, they needed every extra run.
Tigers starter Michael Fulmer, headed to Miami for his first All-Star game, was his usual solid self for six innings. Against a hot-hitting Indians lineup — though without Jason Kipnis, who went on the disabled list with a hamstring injury — he allowed three hits and had a 5-1 lead.
But something was amiss.
“His location wasn’t as crisp,” catcher Alex Avila said. “It wasn’t one of his better games as far as command. I thought he struggled a bit to find his good two-seamer. But he still commanded enough. It’s just the pitches that were hit were middle-middle.”
He only had one strike out in the game and two swings and misses — uncharacteristic.
Then came the seventh inning. Edwin Encarnacion, who doubled in the first run off Fulmer, led off with a single and Jose Ramirez followed with a long home run to right field on a 3-2 fastball.
“You’ve got to give credit to those guys, they are very good hitting club,” said Fulmer, who is now 9-6 on the season. “The two swings and misses, part of that is because my first-pitch strikes were atrocious. It made me have to throw more fastball being behind in the count.
“But, overall, I am happy we won. There is a reason Jose Ramirez is starting in the All-Star Game. I thought I made my best pitch possible there, full-count, front-door slider down and in. It could have been a little higher, but he’s a very good hitter.”
The next two hitters singled and Fulmer’s night was suddenly over.
“He had sat so long the two previous innings,” Ausmus said. “I think all the down time caught up to him and he lost his rhythm.”
Shane Greene, as he did for Justin Verlander on Saturday, came in cleaned up the mess. He threw nine pitches, eight of them strikes. He struck out Yan Gomes, got Abraham Almonte to ground into a fielder’s choice and struck out Bradley Zimmer.
But Greene created a mess of his own in the eighth, issuing one-out walks to Michael Brantley and Encarnacion. Tigers closer Justin Wilson entered.
Wilson had some trouble locating the strike zone, as well, falling behind all three batters he faced. He got a fielder’s choice ground out from Ramirez then walked Brandon Guyer to load the bases.
He buckled down and got the dangerous Carlos Santana to ground out. Crisis averted in a mere 17 pitches.
“We won, that’s all that matters,” said Wilson, who struck out Francisco Lindor to end the game in the ninth, making his 10th save a five-out special. “I don’t care how long I’m out there, just as long as we win the game.”
Fulmer summed it up nicely.
“Greene had my back and J-Willie had Greene’s back,” he said. “It’s going to be a happy All-Star break now.”