Fister keeps Red Sox off balance to balance series
Right-hander shuts down opponents with runners in scoring position
DETROIT -- As expected, Tigers starter Doug Fister wasn't as overpowering or dominating in Game 4 as the rest of the rotation has been in the American League Championship Series. He gave up more hits in six innings than Anibal Sanchez, Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander did in 21 innings over the first three games.
But Fister was just as effective as his buddies -- especially with runners in scoring position -- and the Tigers are back even in the ALCS after a 7-3 victory over the Red Sox on Wednesday night at Comerica Park. Fister is the Tigers' No. 4 starter, and they have won both of his postseason starts.
"I think it's definitely a momentum booster for us, and gives us some confidence," Fister said. "But we've been down before. We've had our backs against the wall before. And it was a matter of today, I think our whole team went out there with a sense of confidence and the fact they 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.'"
By mixing his two fastballs with the curveball and changeup, Fister limited the Red Sox to one run over six innings because they were just 1-for-9 against him with runners in scoring position. Opponents hit .311 off him in those situations during the regular season.
Fister threw 98 pitches, including 63 for strikes. He threw 54 fastballs -- either the cutter or the sinker -- while throwing 28 curveballs and 16 changeups. He said the curve was a big pitch for him on Wednesday night as Tigers pitchers are figuring out the Red Sox are having trouble with breaking pitches.
"I felt good with it tonight and that was part of the game plan, to throw it early," Fister said. "And it worked for me. I felt like I had pretty good control over it, being able to change speeds with it. And I think being able to throw that for strikes and for balls outside of the strike zone to possibly get some swings and misses on it, was definitely a benefit for me. It's one of the things that kept them off balance, and I really tried to mix things up."
His defenders behind him just appreciated how quickly he went about his business.
"Fister works fast," outfielder Torii Hunter said. "I guess the commercial breaks were killing him. He works fast, he's always in the zone. I definitely love when he's out there. He keeps us on our toes. You can never lay back in the outfield or the infield. This guy keeps the game going and keeps the game moving, throws strikes, and, 'Hey, let's go.' I love it."
Tigers starters have allowed three runs over 27 innings in the first four games of the series, which resumes Thursday night at Comerica Park at 8 ET on FOX. They have limited the Red Sox to 14 hits and 10 walks while striking out 42. Fister walked one and struck out seven. The Tigers are seven strikeouts short of the LCS record of 49 set by the Braves in 1991. The playoff record for any series is 51 by the D-backs during the 2001 World Series.
"Their starting pitching has been outstanding," Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz said. "That guy starting the game tonight, it was impressive. He was painting everything. His breaking ball was the best I've seen it, he was spotting his fastball and he was throwing his changeup in hitters' counts."
Although the Tigers won this one rather easily compared to the rest of the series, Fister had a couple pivotal moments early. He kept the Red Sox from taking an early lead, and he kept them from striking back quickly after the Tigers scored five in the second.
With the game still scoreless, Mike Napoli led off the second inning with a double to left and Daniel Nava moved him to third with a grounder to the right side. But Fister stranded him there by getting Jarrod Saltalamacchia to foul out as third baseman Miguel Cabrera made the catch right at the railing in front of the Tigers dugout. Fister then caught Stephen Drew looking at a 2-2 fastball for an inning-ending strikeout.
After the Tigers took a 5-0 lead, Fister gave up a one-out single to Jacoby Ellsbury and a two-out walk to Dustin Pedroia in the third. That put two on for Ortiz and a chance for the Red Sox to cut into the lead. This time, there was no big thunder from Ortiz's bat as Fister retired him on a grounder to second baseman Omar Infante.
"It doesn't matter who's at the plate or who's on," Fister said. "It's always a possibility of a game changer, and you really have to focus every pitch. These games are so tight, as he said, I mean, each ballgame has come down to one, maybe two pitches per team. And, at that point, you have to focus every time out. And if you make a mistake, it can cost you the game."
The Red Sox, trailing 7-0, finally scored off Fister in the sixth on three straight one-out singles by Napoli, Nava and Saltalamacchia. But Fister struck out Drew and got pinch-hitter Mike Carp to ground out, ending the inning and his night.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.