Pittsburgh — It’s an interesting quiz to conduct with a Tigers follower.
How many hits has Alex Wilson allowed in his last six relief appearances?
Although the average fan, who has perhaps not found Wilson to be his or her favorite reliever during recent weeks would probably guess at something inflated, the answer is: two.
Unfortunately for Wilson, both hits have been home runs, including one he allowed Thursday, in the ninth inning, to Pittsburgh’s Corey Dickerson, which became the only run in a 1-0 walkoff victory for the Pirates at PNC Park.
“I don’t know what to tell you,” Wilson said afterward in the visitors’ clubhouse. “Ninety-nine times out of 100, that ball’s an out. I feel snakebit.
“I got out of two situations yesterday,” he said, after pitching hitless ball in both games of a doubleheader the Tigers and Pirates split. “Then I made pitches today and I’m just not being rewarded.”
The pitch that ended up as a Dickerson scrapbook entry, and as a brutal blow to Wilson, was an 0-and-1 cutter that Dickerson, a left-handed batter, was able to knock barely into the right-field seats.
It might or might not have been a pitch he should have, or could have, gotten away with in most ballparks. It didn’t matter.
“I’m not here to throw good pitches and lose,” said Wilson, who is carrying an unsustainable 6.59 ERA. “I didn’t do my job.”
Wilson’s spring, since camp in Florida, has been anything but smooth and consistent. Good in one stint, he might be raked, or be wild, in another.
But those last half-dozen turns, at least in his mind, should have treated him to a different fate.
“It seems like when I do come up with a pitch it’s going out of the ballpark,” he said. “I’m not being rewarded right now.”
This was special, this work Michael Fulmer turned in Thursday.
If you were a Pirates hitter sinking into the dirt on either side of home plate, you could expect from Fulmer a four-seam fastball as high as 97. You could take your chances on a low-90s sinking two-seamer.
You could take a futile wave at a hard-breaking slider from 83-87. Or, perhaps, a tumbling change-up might be your invitation to swing and miss, which happened 24 times Thursday as part of Fulmer’s nine strikeouts in six innings.
Fulmer credited catcher James McCann for being a maestro on pitch-selection Thursday.
“Mac did a great job of mixing my four-seam with my two-seam,” said Fulmer, whose ERA dropped to 2.76 as he allowed only four hits and a single walk. “The biggest thing was getting the ball down in the zone.”
Fulmer had only one tense frame Thursday, the sixth.
He allowed a leadoff opposite-field single to left by Adam Frazier, then went 3-and-0 on No. 2 hitter Gregory Polanco.
Polanco obviously planned on getting a fastball as hittable as any Thursday pitch Fulmer was about to offer. He grounded to second base for a double play. The next batter, StarlingMarte, drew Fulmer’s only walk of the day.
There also was an ominous visit to the mound by manager Ron Gardenhire and Tigers trainer Doug Teter. But the problem, Fulmer assured them, was minor and wasn’t going to keep him from finishing six innings, which he did after throwing 99 pitches.
“My hand was cramping up a little,” he said. “Maybe a little dehydrated. I guess I needed more water, or bananas.”
The Tigers had eight hits Thursday, two more than the Pirates.
But none of them came when hitters were begging to score.
In the first, Leonys Martin banged a leadoff triple against the center-field fence. He was stuck at third as Dixon Machado and Miguel Cabrera grounded out to third, and as Nick Castellanos hit a two-out groundball to shortstop.
In the ninth, Cabrera singled to left, then moved to second on Castellanos’ infield single. Jeimer Candelario pinch-ran for Cabrera and moved to third on a walk to Niko Goodrum.
The bases were loaded against Pirates reliever Felipe Vazquez.
The Pirates infield played in for a put-out at the plate. Which they got when McCann hit a shot to Colin Moran at third, who got the force on Candelario at home plate.
Victor Martinez pinch-hit for the pitcher, given that the designated hitter was not used at a National League park, and got jammed by Vazquez. A soft pop-up to first left the bases loaded with two out.
Next up: Jose Iglesias, who blistered a grounder to the left of shortstop Sean Rodriguez. He gloved it deep on the infield and riveted a relay to second to force Goodrum.
The Pirates had gotten their reprieve. Two batters into their half of the ninth, Dickerson followed with his lofted home run to right.
Alex Wilson this season
Earned runs: 10
Home runs: 4