When the Detroit Tigers win games, it usually won’t be pretty. The worst team in baseball made that clear Wednesday night as mist attacked Fenway Park.
Right-hander Michael Fulmer — Tuesday night’s starter — entered in the bottom of the 10th inning to record his first career save. And manager AJ Hinch issued his first intentional walk since 2018. Also, a former Tiger came back to haunt his old friends.
The Tigers’ 6-5 victory in 10 innings Wednesday over the Boston Red Sox could be described all of these ways: Ugly, heroic, chaotic and beautiful.
“Our guys are fighting,” Hinch said. “It’s not pretty when you look at it from the big-picture view right now, but for tonight’s game, we got a lot out of it. Clearly, our guys care to hang in there in a tough environment and against a tough team.”
This one turned ugly in the bottom of the seventh inning. Starter Casey Mize pitched six innings of one-run ball, helping the Tigers to a 3-1 lead. Ex-Tiger J.D. Martinez, the first batter Bryan Garcia saw, crushed his 10th home run this season to tie the game.
Martinez’s career timeline highlights some of the Tigers’ recent missteps. He arrived in Detroit in 2014 and burst onto the scene as a premier MLB slugger. He was traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks for prospects in 2017 to help ignite the rebuild. Those prospects, headlined by Dawel Lugo, didn’t pan out; Martinez is still getting better. That’s partially why the Tigers (9-22) seem behind schedule in their voyage to winning and why fans are frustrated with general manager Al Avila.
“I will tell you, hitting the ball up and away in the mist, in the cold at Fenway to the biggest part of the ballpark, it’s J.D. Martinez and maybe a few other big names in our game that can do that,” Hinch said. “It happened, and it felt terrible. J.D. showed why he leads the league in a lot of categories.
“It’s why I walked him later in the game.”
Martinez’s homer wasn’t just ugly because the Tigers lost the lead. This is a crucial year for Mize’s development. He deserved his second career win in the majors. Garcia had been exceptional when inheriting runners in scoring position — the runner on second base belonged to Daniel Norris.
But Garcia couldn’t stop Martinez.
Mize took a no-decision because of his team’s league-worst bullpen (6.75 ERA), but he won some big in-game battles. Hinch trusted him to escape a two-out, bases-loaded jam in the sixth. Mize stayed composed and retired Hunter Renfroe on a ground ball.
“I hit (Christian) Arroyo in the hand on the pitch before, so we had a meeting about it,” Mize said. “We were kind of like, ‘All right, we’re either thinking slider away or go back in.’ Immediately in my head, I’m like, ‘Let’s just go right back in.’ I felt confident. Some guys might shy away, ‘Oh, I just hit a guy to load the bases, I don’t want to go back in because I might lose my command again.’ No, I was pretty confident going right back in. We were able to get some weak contact out of him (on the first pitch).”
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The game turned heroic in the top of the 10th inning. Jeimer Candelario raked a three-run homer off Red Sox reliever Garrett Whitlock for a 6-3 lead.
During the previous at-bat, Jonathan Schoop delivered a 10-pitch single.
“It’s a fight and a battle right now,” Hinch said. “We don’t feel great. We haven’t played great, and we’re doing our best to start every day fresh. … It’s important for our veteran guys to get going. You know, maybe something like that can spark us.”
Candelario’s home run added another note in his case to prove he can be the everyday third baseman for years to come. He has a team-best .284 batting average in 31 games.
The Tigers are hitting .202, with Miguel Cabrera slumping at .098.
“I just want to help my team win,” Candelario said. “Whatever I can do to be better as a team, I will gladly do it. I’m going to work really hard to be in a great position to contribute.”
After Candelario gave the Tigers a three-run lead, chaos set in. Closer Gregory Soto slithered out of a bases-loaded jam in the bottom of the ninth inning, which included Hinch’s rare intentional walk of Martinez.
In the 10th, Soto gave up back-to-back singles with one out, and the lead was trimmed to two runs.
That’s when Hinch went to Fulmer.
The final two outs felt like a feel-good film because of Fulmer’s difficult journey in his recovery from Tommy John surgery in 2019. It was “embarrassing,” he said this winter. He returned to being a serviceable big-league pitcher, but the Tigers are using him in a hybrid role between a starter and a reliever.
Fulmer also started Tuesday’s 11-7 loss and was chased in the first inning after throwing 33 pitches. Against Fulmer’s first batter Wednesday, Willi Castro’s fielding error allowed another run to score to make it a one-run game. But Fulmer retired the next two batters for his first career save. He struck out Enrique Hernandez looked at a 96.6 mph sinker to end it.
“I trust him a lot,” Hinch said.
Fulmer became the first pitcher in Tigers history to start one day and earn a save the next day, and he is the 12th American League pitcher since saves became official in 1969 to start one game and earn a save in the next game, according to Sportradar’s database.
He earned the team’s WWE belt, awarded to the pitcher of the game. Starting pitcher Jose Urena did the honors in the clubhouse.
“This was a really nice start by Casey,” Urena preached to his teammates, as Mize recalled. “But we wouldn’t have won that game without Mike. Congrats on the first career save.”
Discussing Fulmer’s hybrid role, Hinch added: “He told me he would do anything that I asked. He just wants to take the ball and pitch. As a veteran player, his willingness to do that is meaningful to a manager.”
Fulmer kept the baseball.
“Everybody’s starting to get a little more consistent with everything,” Fulmer said. “We’re going to use this to make a step in the right direction.”
Those four ways of looking at Wednesday’s game resulted in a 6-5 victory in extra innings. The Tigers still own the worst record in baseball, and they have lost 16 of their past 19 games — almost all of them in an ugly way.
But the Tigers get to try for a series win Thursday at Fenway Park.
“It all starts with the mindset,” Candelario said. “Then, you want to have some good at-bats. Then, you want to put the barrel on the ball. Things can change.”
Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. Read more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter.