Chicago — A little plot twist Friday night.
This time, it was the Tigers who had Michael Fulmer’s back.
“What do you mean, have his back?” Miguel Cabrera said after the game, not familiar with the phrase.
This is what it means:
Fulmer has been the Tigers’ rock, especially in his most recent 10 starts, but he faltered Friday, squandering a 4-1 lead in the fifth inning against the Chicago White Sox.
The Tigers, though, answered with three runs in the seventh — they had Fulmer’s back — to take a 7-5 win on a densely humid night at U.S. Cellular Field.
And it was Cabrera who delivered the big hit.
“We’ve been searching for that big hit for a while now,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “But with Miggy, it was just a matter of time.”
Cabrera capped the wild rally in the seventh with a two-out, two-strike, two-run single up the middle off reliever Nate Jones.
“It’s hard to say, but you almost expect it from him,” Fulmer said. “He’s the greatest hitter on the planet. For him to come through like that is huge. This is a big win for this team.”
For Cabrera, who had four hits and a walk, the RBIs were Nos. 1,500 and 1,501 of his career. He becomes the eighth player in the history of the game to amass 400 home runs and 1,500 RBIs by his 14th season.
“We did our jobs,” Cabrera said. “We scored some runs. But we’ve got another game tomorrow. We have to be right tomorrow.”
Apprised of his milestone, he said, “We’ve got another game tomorrow. We’ve got to be ready for tomorrow. For my country, it’s big. For my family, too.”
The seventh inning rally featured just two singles by Tigers. There were three walks and two wild pitches. Jarrod Saltalamacchia was thrown out at the plate on a fielder’s choice ground ball by Jose Iglesias. Tyler Collins was thrown out at third on a ground ball by Ian Kinsler — Justin Upton scored on the play, tying the score at 5.
All that was against White Sox reliever Carson Fulmer (no relation to Michael).
The Tigers had already left 10 men on base and were threatening to leave three more. Hard-throwing right-hander Jones was summoned to face Cabrera.
“I always feel good when he’s up there in those situations,” Ausmus said. “You could see in his face that the concentration level was there.”
Cabrera was just 2 for 12 against Jones in his career and 0 for 10 with the bases loaded this season.
He fell behind 0-2, then fought off a couple of sliders and worked the count back to 2-2. He laced an upper-90s fastball up the middle, scoring two runs.
“I know a lot of people, when a player goes into a funk you want to write him off,” Ausmus said. “But you have to remember the resume this guy carries. He’s been doing it a long time. He was going to start hitting. It was just a matter of time.”
Cabrera is 9 for his last 12 now after starting 2 for 16 after the break.
The Tigers bullpen then locked it down. Kyle Ryan pitched a scoreless sixth inning. Alex Wilson and Justin Wilson combined to put up a zero in the seventh. Justin worked a scoreless eighth, getting the game to closer Francisco Rodriguez in the ninth.
“Fulmer’s been unreal for us,” Justin Wilson said. “We’ve not really needed the bullpen when he’s pitched. But it’s our job to pick him up when he comes out of the game.”
If you were watching the early innings, left for a while and came back, you’d be wondering where the drama came from.
The White Sox were kicking and throwing balls around the yard. They’d made three errors in the first five innings. Their starting pitcher, former Tigers first-round draft pick Jacob Turner, threw 101 pitches and didn’t survive the fourth inning.
They were down 4-1 and appeared dead in the water — especially with Fulmer on the mound for the Tigers.
Just playing possum, apparently.
Justin Morneau’s three-run home run capped a sudden, four-run fifth inning to put the White Sox up 5-4.
“I felt great,” Fulmer said. “I made one bad pitch to Morneau and he made me pay for it. But we won the game. That’s my goal every start.”
Fulmer hadn’t allowed more than two runs in his previous 10 starts. He hadn’t allowed a home run since June 17, five starts ago. He hadn’t allowed five runs combined in his last 58 1/3 innings.
But he threw a high slider on a 1-2 count and Morneau did not miss it. He lined it into the Tigers bullpen in right field, his first home run since he joined the White Sox.
“I tried to throw the slider down and in,” he said. “With the humidity, I was fighting to get a grip all night. But their guy had to do it, too. No excuses. I didn’t make my best pitch and he made me pay for it.”
Fulmer said the same thing after every one of his 10 strong starts leading up to this one. He says it doesn’t matter if he pitches a complete-game shutout or only lasts a couple innings, all he cares about is whether the team wins the game.
He said the same thing after this one.