Detroit — After manager Brad Ausmus convened a full-team meeting before a series in Kansas City in late May, the Tigers won five of the next six games — their winningest stretch since they opened the season 6-2.
Ausmus called the team together again before the game Saturday, after a particularly ugly 7-2 loss the night before put them on an 11-21 slide since June 4.
Although Ausmus steadfastly refused to divulge the motivation for the meeting or its message, the Tigers responded positively with an 11-1 romp over the Blue Jays in front of the second-largest crowd at Comerica Park this season (40,056).
“You can definitely say it helped,” said Nick Castellanos, who got things going with a first-inning home run. “You come in the clubhouse, everybody comes together and kind of speaks their mind. Nothing major.
“I don’t know if the win today was a result of the meeting — but you can say it.”
And if you want to call the Castellanos home run the trigger point, he’s OK with that, too.
“Yeah, you can write that down,” he said, with a smile. “I was just happy to put a good swing on a fastball early in the game and give us a lead. Any time you can start early and get a lead, that’s what’s most important.”
Ausmus has been saying repeatedly that if there is going to be a spark, it’s going to happen organically on the field, not from some speech or dugout tantrum.
“You talk about what comes first, the chicken or the egg,” Ausmus said. “The truth is, generally something happens on the field that energizes a club. That’s just the way it goes. Something good happens and it has a snowball effect and you build momentum.
“That’s what happened today.”
The Tigers scored five times in the first two innings off Blue Jays starter Francisco Liriano. Miguel Cabrera and J.D. Martinez, who drove in five runs, ended longish home run droughts later in the game. And All-Star right-hander Michael Fulmer took it home.
“Any team win is a good win for me,” Fulmer said, with his typical modesty.
It was his 16th quality start, out of 18, and his 10th win.
“He’s been consistent since he’s put on a Tigers uniform,” Castellanos said. “Every time he takes the mound, everybody is confident we have a good chance to get a W.”
Fulmer went eight strong innings on an efficient 101 pitches and faced just two batters over the minimum. He gave up two singles — one in the second inning to Kendrys Morales (erased on a double play) and one in the eighth to Troy Tulowitzki.
His first comment afterward?
“My walk scored,” Fulmer said. “So that wasn’t good.”
The run came in the fourth inning. Jose Bautista walked, stole second and scored after a pair of ground outs to shortstop. That was the extent of the damage.
“Today was a good day for me,” Fulmer said. “And I felt like I needed it. Just to able to make my pitches and get ground balls and pop-ups and miss barrels.”
He only struck out three, but he was pitching to contact, mostly weak contact. He induced 14 ground ball outs.
“He’s had games where he’s had bigger strikeout numbers,” Ausmus said. “But he’s generally a contact pitcher. He’s got a fastball with late movement and a good breaking ball (slider) that can get swings and misses. But more often than not he gets soft contact.”
Tigers pitchers threw 220 pitches on Friday. They threw 115 Saturday. Fulmer has gone seven innings or deeper in 10 of his last 13 starts. Is Ausmus tempted to call him the ace of the staff?
“Are you trying to create controversy?” Ausmus said. “There’s no question he’s been our best pitcher this year. If an ace is the best pitcher in a given season, then this year he’s the ace. But we still have some season left.”
Liriano, down 2-0 in the third, walked the bases loaded with nobody out. He was clearly out of sorts and after falling behind J.D. Martinez 2-0, he was pulled from the game. The Blue Jays later said he had tightness in his neck.
The Tigers didn’t squander the opportunity.
Martinez hit the first pitch from reliever Mike Bolsinger into left field, a two-run single and all three walks eventually scored.
Martinez, who had three hits and now has an OPS over 1.000, capped the scoring with a three-run shot to right field in the eighth inning. He hadn’t homered since July 1, going empty for 47 plate appearances.
Cabrera, who also had three hits and hadn’t homered since July 1, hit a two-run shot into the visitor’s bullpen in left-center in a three-run sixth inning.
“These guys care,” Ausmus said. “They go about their business every day. They all get their work in and have been very consistent with their approach on a daily basis. It just hasn’t translated on the field.”
They showed what it can look like when it does on Saturday.