10/12/11 12:55 AM ET
Performer of the Game: Fister
Right-hander proving he's capable in the clutch with Tigers
By Greg Johns / MLB.com
Suddenly a rising star in Detroit, Fister shut down the power-laden Rangers in a critical 5-2 victory in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series as he threw 7 1/3 innings of two-run ball.
Fister improved to 10-2 in 13 games with the Tigers and this victory pumped air back into his team's World Series dreams after Texas had taken a 2-0 series lead and was looking for the knockout punch Tuesday.
The road is still difficult for Detroit, but a 3-0 deficit would have been all-but-fatal.
"We never lost confidence. We never lost our hope," Fister said outside the Tigers' buoyant clubhouse. "One thing skip is stressing to us is to just keep going out there grinding things out. When the chips are down, that's when we play our best. We play loose, we play together. That's how good teams do it and that's where we're at right now. We're fighting for it."
Fister, who beat the Yankees a week ago to get the Tigers into the ALCS, once again proved capable in the clutch.
"I thought he put on a pitching clinic," said manager Jim Leyland.
Maybe it should be no surprise by now, given Fister finished fourth in the AL with a 2.83 ERA in his 32 starts with the Mariners and Tigers. But for a pitcher who was 12-30 in two-and-a-half seasons in Seattle, including 3-12 at the time of his July 30 trade this year, it's nothing short of stunning that he's suddenly competing in -- and winning -- games of this magnitude.
The only one who doesn't seem surprised is the big fella himself.
"I'm trying to take this thing one step at a time, obviously," Fister said. "Emotions are running high right now with everybody. We've got camaraderie in the clubhouse, we've got some energy. It's something that gets us back rolling here in front of our home fans. It gets everybody going. We've got some high expectations."
There's nothing fancy about Fister. He's just effective, throwing strikes with remarkable consistency. He gave up seven hits in his 7 1/3 innings Tuesday, but Fister didn't walk a batter for the eighth time in his 12 starts with the Tigers.
Since coming to Detroit in a trade that cost the Tigers four young prospects, Fister has 70 strikeouts and just nine walks, an improvement from an already strong 89-32 ratio in Seattle.
Perhaps it's the increased confidence that comes with pitching for a team that doesn't leave him tight-roping through low-scoring affairs. In Seattle, he had an AL-low 1.97 in run support and lost one game 1-0 when the lone tally came after a runner mistakenly was awarded first base on a three-ball walk.
That run-support number ballooned to 5.89 in his first 12 outings in Detroit, and the Tigers came through with five more Tuesday.
"Maybe he's a little more aggressive, knowing he can play a little bit," said reliever David Pauley, who came to the Tigers along with Fister in the trade with Seattle. "He's not so worried about giving up that one run. It's been fun for him. He's taking advantage of it."
Texas touched Fister for a run early with three consecutive singles to open the game, but he then rolled out six straight scoreless innings -- allowing just three well-spaced singles -- before giving up a leadoff double in the eighth that led to his second run after he was replaced by Joaquin Benoit.
"He was throwing the ball well," Rangers outfielder Nelson Cruz said after an 0-for-3 night. "I saw one pitch that I could drive. Everything else was inside on my hands. He didn't leave many pitches over the plate."
"His sinker was moving a lot," said first baseman Michael Young, another 0-for-4 victim. "Nothing was coming in straight."
That is Fister's key to success. He doesn't overpower batters with his 90-mph fastball, but he has a downward arm angle and deceptive movement, along with a game plan that clearly is working.
"There's a point where everybody realizes what you have and you just have to come to terms with it and stay within yourself," he said. "One quote I've always found was, 'Be the best version of yourself you can be.' Whatever that is. Whether it's a 95-mph fastball or 86-mph fastball, you just have to do your best with it and locate it."
And when he was done Tuesday, when Leyland took him out in the eighth inning, the normally stoic Fister touched the brim of his cap twice as he walked off the field to a standing ovation.
"We're at home here and everybody is on their feet, waving those white flags," Fister said. "It gives me goose bumps to remember walking off to that, and it's kind of nice as a fan to be acknowledged and to know that you're there.
"We definitely appreciate the fan base we have here in Detroit, and as players, we aren't afraid to go out there and say thank you."