Minneapolis — Michael Fulmer chuckled.
“Baseball is weird,” he said.
Fulmer hadn’t earned a victory for the Tigers since April 7. He’s thrown four quality starts (and a couple of not-so-quality ones) between then and Wednesday and got four no-decisions. He pitched six scoreless innings and the Tigers lost 1-0 at Pittsburgh. In his last start, he felt as strong as he had all season and gave up three runs.
“You go from one start where I felt my best, felt like I had my best stuff and end up giving up three runs,” Fulmer said. “Then I come in here today and I just wasn’t feeling well and my arm felt heavy. No pain, you know, but just one of those days.
“And I end up giving up only one run.”
After five straight losses, the Tigers salvaged the finale against the Minnesota Twins Wednesday, 4-1.
“We needed it,” Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire said. “This was a tough road trip. We’d been in a lot of really close ballgames. So this is a good way to go home — a happy flight.”
And it was a former Twin, Niko Goodrum, who delivered the kill shot. After going hitless in his first 13 at-bats against his former mates, he whacked a line-drive, two-run home run to the seats in right field to break a 1-1 tie in the fourth inning.
“There was no big emotion for me about the Twins,” said Goodrum, whose five home runs are tied for the team lead. “I was more excited that I hit a home run than who I hit it against.”
For the first time in six games, the Tigers tacked on a run after the fifth inning. Goodrum ignited that, too, with a lead-off double. He scored on a single by JaCoby Jones.
“It was good to see the guys I used to play with, but really, there was no extra emotion for me,” Goodrum said. “I enjoyed being with the Twins. They drafted me and I appreciate them drafting me. But there was no big emotion about that — I’m just glad we got a win.”
To say the least, it was a laborious start for Fulmer. Although he only gave up three hits through the first five innings, two of them in the first, he was at 97 pitches entering the sixth and facing the heart of the Twins order for the third time.
“Our starter battled, he really battled,” Gardenhire said. “He gave us everything he had. … There were a lot of 3-2 counts, lot of deep counts and they fouled off a ton of balls. They made him work.
“But he kept attacking. He didn’t back away from them and when he got into situations, he went with his fastball to get big outs.”
Fulmer in his last start got himself in trouble throwing his slider late in the game. Once he gets beyond 70 pitches, the slider has been flattening out. That’s one reason he went to the heater when he needed big outs.
“Boz (pitching coach Chris Bosio) and I had talked about just sticking to my strengths,” Fulmer said. “Obviously, my strengths are the four-seam and two-seam fastball — in to lefties and away from righties. I stuck to my strength and we got it done. That’s all that matters.”
Of his 112 pitches, Fulmer threw 29 four-seamers and 34 two-seamers. He got seven of his 15 swings and misses and 12 of his 18 called strikes with those pitches. The average exit velocity on fastballs put in play by the Twins was 86 mph.
“Maybe it’s what I needed,” Fulmer said. “Not having my good stuff and still going out and giving our team a chance to win.”
It was a 3-1 game when Fulmer took the mound in the sixth. He gave up a lead-off single to Eddie Rosario, but erased him on a reverse double-play. First baseman John Hicks fielded the ground ball, stepped on first and threw to second. They got Rosario in a rundown — 3-6-3-4, with Dixon Machado applying the tag.
Fulmer then walked Logan Morrison and Gardenhire came and got him.
“He really wanted to get that last guy out,” Gardenhire said. “He said he just overthrew it. But it was big getting us into the sixth inning and almost through it.”
Right-hander Louis Coleman, emerging as a key middle reliever, ended the sixth on one pitch, getting Jake Cave to foul out. Then he put the Twins down in order in the seventh. He’s now pitched seven scoreless innings since his contract was purchased from Toledo two weeks ago.
“He’s an experienced guy,” Gardenhire said. “He’s stepping up at big moments. We thought other guys would fill that role, but maybe he can bridge that gap.”
Right-hander Joe Jimenez, who hadn’t worked since Saturday in Seattle, was throwing 98-mph fastballs in a scoreless eighth inning. He had to get through the top of the Twins’ order. After walking Brian Dozier, he induced a 6-3 double-play from Max Kepler, a spinning grounder at the bag at second that Jose Iglesias scooped up and made the play to first.
Rosario, who had three hits on the day, singled but Jimenez struck out Eduardo Escobar swinging at a high, 96-mph fastball to end the inning.
Shane Greene, who pitched a quick and clean ninth, will get credit for his 11th save, but Jimenez got the three toughest outs in a two-run game.
“We played two good baseball teams on this trip,” Gardenhire said of the Mariners and Twins. “Both have aspirations of getting to the playoffs. And I thought we competed very well against two very good teams.
“But finding a way to get over the hump like we did today feels a little bit better.”