Postseason within reach, Fulmer shows team-first attitude

Rookie falls short of qualifying for ERA title Wednesday, but his focus is on playoffs goal

September 29th, 2016

DETROIT -- Right-hander gets it. It's not about "me." And he knows it. It's about "us." And Fulmer welcomes that.

So there Fulmer was on Wednesday, the last player remaining in the Tigers' clubhouse once Detroit won, 6-3, in a five-inning, rain-shortened victory against the Indians that allowed them to remain a game back of the Orioles in the battle for the second American League Wild Card spot.

The night had the potential of some personal milestones, all of which got washed away. But Fulmer wasn't complaining. He came into the game 6 1/3 innings away from qualifying for the AL ERA title and well in position to join a former Tiger, Mark Fidrych, as the only big league rookies to win an ERA title since the mound was lowered in 1969.

Fulmer wound up three innings short. His ERA now stands at 3.057, a tad better than official AL ERA leader of Toronto, whose ERA is 3.065, but there are no concessions made for an ERA title. It's one inning of work for a pitcher for each game his team played.

Tigers manager Brad Ausmus gave Fulmer a shot to get that additional three innings. He just couldn't let that goal get in the way of the team goal, which Fulmer understood.

After an initial rain delay of nearly an hour and with Detroit leading, 3-1, Fulmer was given the ball to start the fourth. Three batters, two hits and a run later, got the call.

There went the chance of a victory. There went the shot at an ERA title -- barring a start in a Game 163 should the Tigers wind up tied for the Wild Card spot. And it could mean there went an AL Rookie of the Year Award, where Fulmer does seem to be the strongest candidate along with Yankees catcher .

2016 tiebreaker scenarios

Not that Fulmer cared. He may be 23, and in his rookie season, but he has a veteran sense of reality, which, along with a fastball that can hit 98 mph and a hard slider, is why Detroit feels so good about what the future will bring for the right-hander, who was among the prospects they received from the Mets a year ago for outfielder .

"I'd rather pitch in the postseason," Fulmer said. "Who knows, it might be my only chance."

Ask Nolan Ryan. As a youngster with the Mets in 1969, he was on a World Series champion team.

"When you are young and that happens, you think that is how it's going to be," said Ryan. "Then you realize it isn't that way."

While Ryan got back to the postseason in 1979 with the Angels and '80, '81 and '86 with the Astros, he never did get back to a World Series despite the fact he pitched for 24 more years after his first World Series appearance before retiring at the age of 47.

The difficult part of that postseason challenge hasn't been lost on Fulmer, whom the Mets selected out of Deer Creek High School in Edmond, Okla., with the 44th Draft pick in 2011.

"It's wasn't my best performance [Wednesday]," Fulmer said, "but when it was all said and done, we won the game. That's the only goal."

Ausmus had the same thought, giving Fulmer that chance to resume the game, but he was not about to let things get out of hand when two of the first three Indians reached base in the fourth.

"I didn't ask him," Ausmus said of whether Fulmer wanted to stay in the game. "We were winning, and he gave up a couple hits. I felt we needed to make a change."

But Fulmer is in the perfect position for his next start to be even more significant than the one on Wednesday.

With lined up to start the regular-season finale in Atlanta on Sunday, it's Fulmer, the only other Tigers starter who has had a strong second half, who would get the call for either a Game 163 tiebreaker on Monday or in the Wild Card game on Tuesday to determine which Wild Card team advances to the AL Division Series.

That's the kind of faith the Tigers have in Fulmer. He's earned it. His record may be 11-7 in 26 starts, but that's right in line with the ace of the rotation, Verlander, who is 10 years Fulmer's elder and has a resume that includes six All-Star selections, an AL Cy Young Award, and an AL MVP Award. Verlander is 16-8, and Detroit is 20-13 in the games he has started.

With the Orioles having that one-game edge on the Tigers for the second Wild Card, and with the Mariners just a game back of Detroit, either Verlander, in Game 162, or Fulmer, in a Game 163, could get the call in the game to clinch a postseason spot.

"If that happens," said Fulmer, "I'll be ready."

And the Tigers would be very comfortable with that scenario.

Fulmer, after all, gets it.