DETROIT -- Victor Martinez's first home run since Aug. 23 lifted the Tigers back into a tie for the second American League Wild Card slot. His go-ahead drive in the eighth inning off Orioles reliever Brad Brach nullified Baltimore's game-tying rally in the top half, sending Detroit to a 4-3 win Friday night at Comerica Park.
The win leaves the two teams one game behind Toronto, which lost to Boston, 13-3, on Friday night, for the first AL Wild Card.
The opener of a critical three-game series between two AL Wild Card contenders lived up to the hype, from a pitching duel between youngsters Michael Fulmer and Kevin Gausman to dueling rallies once they left. Fulmer allowed just three hits in seven innings, leaving with a 3-2 lead, before back-to-back hits off Alex Wilson erased the lead in the eighth.
"The atmosphere really felt like a playoff atmosphere, if I knew what that felt like," Fulmer said. "It was fun. It really was."
Martinez stepped to the plate in a 6-for-42 slump, including making two outs with runners in scoring position on Friday, before he connected on Brach's 2-2 pitch. His 24th home run of the season was his third go-ahead homer in the eighth inning or later. The Tigers have 11 of them as a team, one behind the Rangers for the Major League lead.
"We haven't given up against back-end bullpen arms," Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said. "I've said it a number of times in the last few weeks. The back end of bullpens are usually some of the best arms in games, and we don't give up against them."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Aybar ends drought: Gausman had a 20 2/3-inning scoreless streak going, but tempted fate when he walked James McCann with two outs and a runner on in the second. Erick Aybar capitalized on the next pitch, lifting a double into the right-field corner to score J.D. Martinez from second base for a 1-0 Detroit lead.
Deep, but not deep enough:Hyun Soo Kim drove a ball to left field off Fulmer in the third, but had what would have been his fifth home run taken away by a leaping Justin Upton. Then in the fifth, Pedro Alvarez smacked a ball to the deepest part of Comerica Park, but came away with a 420-foot double off the top of the out-of-town scoreboard.
For his next trick: Gausman had runners at the corners, nobody out and a 3-0 count on Miguel Cabrera and survived unblemished in the third, fanning Cabrera and getting Victor Martinez to fly into a double with the help of Mark Trumbo's throw from right field to home to nab Ian Kinsler. Gausman nearly escaped a similar jam in the fifth, but fell behind on J.D. Martinez, who sent a 3-1 pitch back through the middle for a bases-loaded, two-run single.
Schoop goes deep: Fulmer struck out Kim on a 90-mph slider to begin the sixth. Two batters later, he threw another 90-mph slider to Jonathan Schoop, except he left it over the heart of the plate and Schoop turned on it for a 397-foot homer, according to Statcast™. That was Schoop's first home run since Aug. 31.
Schoop's homer gave the Orioles life, cutting their deficit to 3-2 at the time, though Fulmer went on to retire the final five batters he faced. Schoop was particularly impressed with Fulmer's two-seam fastball and his slider.
"Every pitch worked for him tonight," Schoop said. He was throwing really hard, too. He was really good."
"We did a good job to get the job done against good pitchers, really. But I'd rather score 10." -- Ausmus, on the Tigers' one-run victory
"I was trying to go in and I left it middle. I just can't make mistakes like that. I've been saying that for a while now, it's my execution. I'm not executing my pitches when I should, especially in big spots against some of the better hitters. That's just not a good pitch." -- Brach, on the home run from Martinez and recent struggles on mound More >
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Gausman became just the second pitcher in the last two years to strike out Cabrera after a 3-0 count.
WHAT'S NEXT Orioles:Ubaldo Jimenez (6-11, 6.19 ERA) starts the middle game of the three-game set with the Tigers on Saturday at 7:10 p.m. ET. Jimenez is coming off his first complete game since 2011. He allowed three runs against the Rays on Monday in his first win since June 28.
Tigers:Jordan Zimmermann (9-5, 4.44 ERA) returns from the disabled list for his first start since Aug. 4, and just his second start since June 30 after neck strains sidelined him for much of the summer. He'll likely be limited to 90-100 pitches as he rejoins the Tigers' rotation in time to make an impact on the playoff race.