What began as a great home stand with five straight victories ended on a sour note for the Yankees, who lost for the second straight game to the Tigers, 4-1, and dropped below .500 at 31-32 Sunday afternoon at Yankee Stadium.
The Yankees couldn’t touch Tigers rookie righthander Michael Fulmer (7-1, 2.52 ERA), who threw six innings of two-hit ball to run his streak of scoreless innings to 28 1⁄3 . Fulmer, who was the prize the Tigers acquired from the Mets last summer in the trade for Yoenis Cespedes, has been the hottest pitcher in baseball since May 21, going 5-0 with an MLB-best 0.26 ERA, a .114 batting average against and 30 strikeouts in 34 1⁄3 innings.
“He pitched well,” said Carlos Beltran, who struck out twice and flied out to rightfield with the bases loaded in the fifth with the Yankees trailing 2-0. “He has great stuff, good fastball, live, and the slider was good. For me, I was having trouble picking up the spin of the slider, and he got me chasing a couple times.”
The fifth was the only spot of trouble for Fulmer. He gave up a leadoff double to Austin Romine and issued two-out walks to Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner before Beltran lofted a fly that looked as if it had a chance to go out when it left the bat. “I hit it good,” Beltran said. “I went up there looking for the slider. I got a good pitch to hit right in the strike zone, and I put a good barrel on it. It just went up into the air.”
Yankees starter Michael Pineda (3-7, 5.88 ERA) allowed only one hit in the first three innings, a first-inning double by Miguel Cabrera that was the 2,400th hit of his career, making him the fifth-fastest to that mark in history behind Ty Cobb, Rogers Hornsby, Henry Aaron and Robin Yount. But a bases-loaded sacrifice fly by Nick Castellanos in the fourth drove in the game’s first run, and Ian Kinsler walked to lead off the fifth and eventually scored on Victor Martinez’s groundout for a 2-0 lead.
In the seventh, Yankees reliever Anthony Swarzak gave up an infield single by Mike Aviles and a two-run homer to leftfield by Kinsler, who drove in seven runs in the final two games of the series.
The Yankees managed their only run in the eighth when Ellsbury singled, moved to second on Beltran’s one-out walk and scored on Chase Headley’s two-out single to leftfield.
The defeat came on the heels of a 6-1 loss to Justin Verlander on Saturday night. Now the Yankees head out on a six-game road trip that begins with two games at Colorado.
“They pitched better than we hit,” Headley said of the two losses to the Tigers. “That happens sometimes . . . But I think we’ve been swinging the bats pretty well the last 10 or 15 days. If we swing the bats the way we’re capable of, Colorado is a place that rewards putting the ball on the barrel.”
Although the Yankees slipped back below the .500 level, they completed a stretch of 40 games in 41 days with a 23-17 record that helped right the ship after a slow start to the season. The starting pitching has begun to come around, so there is a reason for optimism heading into summer.
“It’s been a grind,” Headley said. “I don’t know if I remember any point in my career where we played that many games in that many days . . . When you come out of a tough stretch like that, it can send you one way or the other, and I think we did a pretty good job of playing well in that stretch.”