DETROIT — Looking every bit the California kid that he is, Doug Fister arrived for his postgame press conference in a T-shirt, jeans, and flip-flops. He exuded a what-me-worry kind of attitude, a laidback confidence. It seemed like a carryover from the mound, where he dispatched Red Sox batters with the same proficiency as his higher-profile teammates. Fister’s pitching propelled the Tigers to a 7-3 win, tying the ALCS at 2-2.
And for the first time since Game 1, Detroit turned a dominant pitching performance into a victory. Fister recorded seven strikeouts and allowed only one run in six innings pitched. He threw 98 pitches, including 63 for strikes.
“I think [the win] is definitely a momentum booster for us, and gives us some confidence. But we’ve been down before. We’ve had our backs against the wall before. And it was a matter of today our whole team went out there with a sense of confidence. [We] just said, ‘Hey, we’re going to play loose baseball like we always do and not get too hyped up or put pressure on ourselves.’ ”
Speaking before the game, Detroit manager Jim Leyland mentioned that starters Fister and Jake Peavy “might not get all the attention that the other guys get.” The Game 4 winner stands in the shadows of his award-worthy teammates — 2011 American League Cy Young and MVP winner Justin Verlander and current Cy Young favorite Max Scherzer. In fact, Fister may be best known by a national audience for taking a line drive off the right side of his head in Game 2 of the 2012 World Series. Shockingly, he managed to stay in that game.
But Wednesday night at Comerica Park, Fister deservedly gained notice and praise for his dominance of Red Sox hitters. Not only did Fister continue the trend of great starts by Detroit pitchers (Game 1 starter Anibal Sanchez, Scherzer, and Verlander recorded 35 strikeouts and allowed only two runs in 21 innings pitched in the first three games), he also enjoyed run support from the Detroit hitters. And that combination proved too much for the Red Sox.
When asked if the performances produced by Scherzer and Verlander set a high bar, Fister said, “I don’t look at it that way. I’m one of 25 going out there, And we’re going to try to put up zeroes just like they are. You never want an opposing team to score one run. We don’t look at it that way [as far as keeping up with the other Detroit starters]. I certainly don’t. It’s a matter of we want to win the series. We want to move on and that’s what it comes down to.”
Fister’s night started solidly with a collection of Red Sox batters grounding out and popping out, sprinkled with a Dustin Pedroia single and Mike Napoli double. The righthander recorded his first strikeout against Stephen Drew to close the top of the second. In the bottom of the inning, the Detroit hitters gave Fister a five-run cushion. That advantage appeared to make Fister more relaxed on the mound.
After collecting a pair of strikeouts in the third, Fister faced a critical situation when David Ortiz came the plate with Pedroia on first and Ellsbury on second. The righthander got Ortiz to ground out to second base to end the inning. For his part, Fister didn’t see the Ortiz out in the third as any bigger than the others he recorded last night.
“It doesn’t matter who’s at the plate or who’s on,” said Fister. “It’s always a possibility of a game changer, and you really have to focus every pitch. These games are so tight. Each ballgame has come down to one, maybe two pitches per team. At that point, you have to focus every time out. If you make a mistake, it can cost you.”
Fister continued to hold the Red Sox scoreless in the fourth and fifth innings, then he struggled in the sixth and allowed his first and only run. Napoli scored on a single by Jarrod Saltalamacchia. But Fister made it through the end of the inning after Drew struck out and Mike Carp grounded into a force out. With a 7-1 lead, Leyland turned to the Detroit bullpen in the seventh and, unlike the relievers’ collapse in Game 2, they did enough to secure the win.
But regardless of the score, Fister said his approach and that of the other Detroit pitchers is always the same.
“I still say it’s a 0-0 ball game, no matter if it’s 7-0 or down 5,” said Fister. “We’re going to go out there and try to put a zero every inning for them and get the offense back out there.”
Shira Springer can be reached at email@example.com.