Denver — Eventually, that nuclear baseball plant known as Coors Field was going to blow up.
And it did, on the Tigers, late in Tuesday’s game, when the Rockies turned their seventh-inning at-bats into four runs, destroying what had been at that point for Detroit a respectable effort, all before it turned into a 7-3 defeat.
Michael Fulmer, whose numbers lied about how well he pitched Tuesday, pushed into the seventh, fighting a rising pitch-count. He worked not so much to save a worn Tigers bullpen, but because he seemed the best option at a baseball venue that’s more like an ammo dump.
“It’s probably better to have one of the best pitchers in the league trying to hold a team in this ballpark,” said Ausmus, who knows Coors’ volatile ways from his years as a National League catcher.
But a couple of singles and a sacrifice fly in the seventh put the Rockies on top, 4-3. And after Daniel Stumpf got his lone, left-handed batter to ground out, it was up to Warwick Saupold to keep it a one-run game.
No go. Denver’s downtown ballpark has a way of turning oxygen-light air into a thermal booster that sends baseballs soaring.
Saupold lost old Birmingham Brother Rice prep star D.J. LeMahieu to a walk, then was forced to take on powerful third baseman Nolan Arenado.
He blasted an 0-1 fastball from Saupold on a high, Rocky Mountain arc well into the left-center bleachers. It was now a 7-3 game and the Tigers weren’t making it back, even if they had rallied niftily after the Rockies took an early 3-0 lead.
The Tigers got a run back in the fifth on back-to-back doubles to right-center from Mikie Mahtook and John Hicks.
They got two more runs in the seventh to tie it, 3-3-, when Mahtook slammed a flat German Marquez slider 421 feet into the left-field bleachers. James McCann, who had been safe on a fielder’s choice when Nick Castellanos was thrown out at third, scored ahead of Mahtook’s trot home and Fulmer now had a tie game to take into the seventh.
But the seventh was yet another trap as Fulmer got a seminar on Coors Field’s crazy ways.
“The rumor is sinkers don’t sink much in this air,” he said, and it wasn’t long before he, and home plate umpire Mike Everitt, got a painful physics lesson.
Fulmer was throwing warm-up pitches as the Rockies came to bat in the first. He fired a two-seam fastball that missed the target “by two or three feet” and crashed straight into Everitt’s groin.
Everitt staggered down the third-base line, doubled up in misery, as trainers and the umpiring crew gathered. He got his breath, left the game, and handed home-plate duties to second-base umpire Tom Woodring, who was now at the head of a three-man crew.
Everitt had a reassuring MRI and afterward was fine. Fulmer, not as much.
“I felt better than my line was,” said Fulmer, whose record is now 10-12, and whose ERA is 3.83.
And yet, for as much as he could feel chummy toward a four-seam fastball that purred at 96-97, and a slider and change-up that generally behaved, it was his sinking two-seamer that, for Fulmer, was like trying to grab a swimming fish.
He was still dealing with the fallout from the Everitt incident when LeMahieu, who scored three runs Tuesday, drove a fastball into the right-field balcony two batters into the Rockies’ first.
“I threw all four-seamers to LeMahieu,” Fulmer explained, saying that after his two-seam, warm-up mishap he wasn’t about to trust a sinker.
“I got behind and I wasn’t going to throw something when I didn’t know what it was doing.”
He got nicked for two more runs in the third when Gerardo Parra, on a good fastball away, blooped an opposite-field single to left to score Charlie Blackmon (infield single) and LeMahieu (walk).
Fulmer’s final numbers: eight hits, five runs, three strikeouts, one walk.
Another rookie had better fortunes Tuesday. Marquez is only 22 and the Tigers will be fine with not regularly seeing this other-league gunslinger.
He torched the Tigers with a fastball-curveball concoction good for 10 strikeouts before Marquez disappeared with one gone in the seventh.
The Tigers and their bats dissolved in the eighth and ninth and now Ausmus’ crew will hope Justin Verlander is up to old ways and can help swipe a series victory in Wednesday’s afternoon finale.