(AP) – After their struggles entering this series, a sweep over any team would have been big for the Detroit Tigers and manager A.J. Hinch.
But doing it against his former club did make the victories just a bit sweeter.
Michael Fulmer earned his first win since 2018 and the Tigers built a big lead before holding off the short-handed Houston Astros 6-4 Wednesday night to win all three games.
Hinch wrapped up a triumphant return to Houston with the sweep that followed the Tigers losing their previous four games and six of seven. It was his first meeting with the Astros since being suspended by Major League Baseball and subsequently fired in January 2020 for his role in the team’s sign-stealing scam.
“We needed a win, you could put any team in the other dugout, we needed some wins and we wanted to piece them together," Hinch said. “But it’s natural to have some extra motivation and want to show well and have your team play well but it didn’t matter who was across the way."
Outscored 14-4 in losing the first two games with a full roster, the Astros went into the wrapup after putting five players, including stars José Altuve, Alex Bregman and Yordan Álvarez, on the COVID-19 injured list.
“It’s hard on the team but you have to carry on. The show must go on," manager Dusty Baker said. “And it went on today with some younger players we have here."
Jeimer Candelario had three hits and two RBIs for Tigers, who took advantage of a wild performance by Lance McCullers Jr. (1-1) to pile up six runs in four innings with only a double and a smattering of singles. The small-ball display came a night after Detroit scored all its runs in an 8-2 win via five homers.
The Astros trailed 6-3 going into the ninth and loaded the bases with no outs. Bryan Garcia retired the next two batters before walking Yuli Gurriel to force home a run. Garcia then struck out Kyle Tucker to get his second save.
“They were hitting balls all over the park," Baker said. “They jumped us. it really hurts to lose a game like that. We were playing well on the road but couldn’t get it together at home."
Fulmer (1-0) yielded three hits and two runs over five innings. It was his first start this season after three relief appearances.
Fulmer snapped a nine-game losing streak with his first win since June 14, 2018.
“It means a lot," he said. “It’s been a real long road. I’m just so thankful for the opportunity to still go out there and do what I can to help this team win."
An All-Star in 2017, he lost his last seven decisions in 2018 in going 3-12, then missed all of 2019 after Tommy John surgery.
The 28-year-old right-hander lost two games in 2020 when each of his 10 starts were limited to three innings as he recovered from the procedure.
Jason Castro’s two-run homer cut the lead to 6-2 in the Houston fifth. Daniel Norris took over for Fulmer to start the sixth and allowed an RBI single by Gurriel.
The Astros loaded the bases with one out in the eighth, but Abraham Toro grounded into a double play to end the threat.
McCullers plunked Renato Núñez before walking Jonathan Schoop to start the second. The Tigers took a 1-0 lead on an RBI double by Akil Baddoo before adding another one on a groundout by Niko Goodrum. Robbie Grossman’s two-out single scored Baddoo to make it 3-0.
McCullers continued to struggle with control in the fourth inning, walking Schoop with no outs and allowing him to advance to third on a wild pitch with one out. McCullers then walked Goodrum before hitting Grossman with a pitch with two outs to end his night.
Joe Smith took over and was greeted by Candelario’s two-run single that extended the lead to 5-0. A bloop single by Wilson Ramos drove in another run to put the Tigers up 6-0.
Tigers: RF Nomar Mazara left the game during an at-bat in the fourth inning with a side injury.
Astros: C Martín Maldonado and INF Robel García were the other players forced to sit out due to health and safety protocols. It’s unclear how long any of the players sidelined by health and safety protocols will be out. General manager James Click said he couldn’t say if a player had tested positive for COVID-19 or been exposed to someone who had and that the length of each player’s absence would be determined by contact testing that is being performed.
McCullers was thee third Houston starter in this series to be pulled before the fifth inning after Zack Greinke lasted just 4 2/3 innings on Monday and Jake Odorizzi was chased after 3 1/3 innings on Tuesday.
Tigers: Open a four-game series at Oakland on Thursday night when Tarik Skubal (0-1, 7.71 ERA) opposes A’s LHP Sean Manaea (0-1, 5.06).
Astros: Are off on Thursday and haven’t yet announced their rotation for a three-game series at Seattle which begins on Friday night.
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