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Tigers 5, Rays 4: Michael Fulmer strikes out 11 in dazzling performance

Justin Wilson nearly blew it for Detroit, though.

Leon Halip-USA TODAY Sports

DETROIT -- It's Michael Fulmer's world and Detroit Tigers fans are just along for the ride. But seven innings of smooth sailing and three home runs from the offense almost weren't enough because of the bullpen's antics. In the end, though, the Tigers squeaked out a 5-4 win from the Tampa Bay Rays after another big day from Cameron Maybin and a monumental seventh inning.

Rookie versus former Tiger Drew Smyly. Fulmer has performed well enough, but whether he could hold his own was in question. He performed above and beyond expectations. His fastball had wicked life and late, tailing action, and the speed dialed up to 98 mph at one point. Fulmer, while he has promise, has carried questions as to his durability to the later innings, and even going past the five-inning mark.

Saturday's performance put his dominance on display and showed both the command he can exhibit when he's on the mark, as well as his ability to get out of a jam under pressure. Two key points stand out with Fulmer's outing, and both belong to Evan Longoria at-bats. After a leadoff double started the game, the righty was pushed into a corner following a flyout that had a runner at third. He reached back to 97 mph but Longoria had worked the count full, until Fulmer dropped an 88 mph slider to freeze the Rays third baseman on a looking strikeout.

Longoria went down swinging in the third after a two-out double by Brad Miller threatened to put the Rays ahead yet again, then in the sixth, Fulmer gave up a solo home run. Except, the pitch was inside and 97 mph and somehow Longoria golfed it out for a dinger. By the time Fulmer concluded his portion of the afternoon, he'd had punched out 11 Rays batters and gone seven solid innings.

With Fulmer having departed, the game rested in the hands of the Tigers offense and their poor baserunning. Despite a two-on chance in the fifth, the only run support through six innings had been a solo home run by Cameron Maybin. However, James McCann more than made up for it with his home run in the seventh, and J.D. Martinez provided some insurance with a two-run shot of his own. It would've been a comfortable win had Justin Wilson not nearly blown it in the eighth.

ROARS:

Michael Fulmer: Seven innings pitched, 11 strikeouts, one run.

Cameron Maybin: If he keeps this up he's going to become a permanent fixture in the roar column. Maybin took a 2-1 cutter deep in the third inning, nearly clearing the bullpen in the process. Then he singled in the fifth. Then he singled in the seventh.

James McCann: Smoked a two-run home run to left for his first homer of the year. He also caught Pearce attempting to steal in the sixth.

J.D. Martinez: He was 0-for-3 with two strikeouts until the seventh when he sent a line drive shot to right field for an opposite field two-run homer.

HISSES:

Tigers baserunning: Basic baserunning skills are ... pretty basic. Yet, the Tigers manage to find new and creative ways to mess it up.

Justin Wilson: Gave up three runs in the eighth. Not good any way you slice that one.

STREAKS AND STATS:

  • Michael Fulmer set a new career high in strikeouts when he earned his seventh strikeout on a leadoff K of Logan Morrison in the fifth. He went on to strike out 11 batters, becoming the fifth Tiger to strike out 10-or-more batters in one of his first five MLB starts since 1913. The others were Kyle Lobstein (on Sept. 2, 2014, Jack Morris (on July 31, 1977), Denny McLain (on Sept. 29, 1963), and Ralph Comstock (on Sept. 1, 1913)
  • James McCann hit his first home run of the season in the seventh inning.
  • Cameron Maybin is now 11-for-16 since being activated from the DL. The home run was his first extra-base hit of the year, though.
  • J.D. Martinez's home run marked his ninth of the year. It was also his first hit after he was 0-for-5 on Friday night and had been 0-for-3 for the day to that point. A mini-slump, but it wasn't pretty while in progress.
  • Maybin was caught trying to steal a base for the first time this year. Meanwhile, Kinsler stole his fourth bag of the season in the seventh (third base).

WIN PROBABILITY GRAPH:


Source: FanGraphs