"You can't get better than the way he has pitched his last few outings," catcher Alex Avila said after Fister's four-hitter. "There's no, 'Well, he's getting better each start.' That's as good as it gets right there."
To Avila, Fister's pitching has been as good as it was when he came over from Seattle a year ago. He might not get the results he did last year, when he went 8-1 with a 1.79 ERA down the stretch and became the prize of the Trade Deadline deals. But he's giving Detroit a chance at wins.
Saturday's outing earned the Tigers their third straight victory, during which they've outscored opponents by a 23-8 margin. Their combined 16-3 pounding of the Indians the last two nights has become apt revenge for the series in Cleveland a week and a half ago, in which one big Indians inning off Justin Verlander in the finale turned the three-game set.
Add in a White Sox loss to the Angels Saturday night, and the Tigers made up a game in the standings, moving to within a game and a half of the AL Central lead.
For nearly six innings, Fister had Tigers fans thinking the still-controversial perfect game bid by Armando Galarraga against the Indians here two years ago might be avenged, too. Fister didn't get there, and he lost his shutout bid in the ninth, but the complete game was a consolation.
To Avila, it was also a reminder.
"A lot of people were wondering what was wrong with him. Well, he hadn't pitched," Avila continued. "You can't just go two months without pitching and then come back, not have any rehab starts and just think you're going to go eight innings. That's just not realistic. ...
"That's what I was telling people all the time, making sure that he knew that, which he does. He's a confident guy, knowing that he needed to pitch, gain his endurance a little bit so he can last those innings. Once he started going through the order the third and fourth time, he still had good stuff and he wasn't tiring out."
Avila felt Fister's pitches were actually better after Ezequiel Carrera's triple with two outs in the sixth broke up the perfect game. Given the swings Cleveland hitters were taking, he had a case.
Tribe hitters came out hacking at pitches, and they had their share of solid swings. However, they found Tigers defenders consistently, from two running catches by Jackson in deep right-center field to a tricky catch by Brennan Boesch in right.
Once Omar Infante made a slick grab of a tricky hop, Fister's bid was on, with Cleveland's first 17 batters retired in order. Fister was a strike away from closing out the sixth, with an 0-2 count.
He threw some nasty curveballs Saturday night, and pitching coach Jeff Jones noted the curve has been sharper Fister's last two starts. His 0-2 pitch to Carrera wasn't one of those.
"We wanted to get [it] in the dirt," Avila said, "and just left it up a little bit."
Carrera has yet to hit a home run in 70 Major League games, and just 11 of his previous 51 big league hits had gone for extra bases. However, he has some surprising power. Jackson got a late jump on it, but as deep the ball traveled, he didn't appear to have a chance to run it down regardless.
"Yeah, I couldn't judge how hard it was hit," Jackson said. "I tried to read the swing a little bit and it was obviously hit harder than I thought it was. ... I just froze for a split second and kind of cost it right there."
Carrera sped around with a triple, and the crowd of 42,744 stood up in applause of Fister's effort.
"That guys got a chance on everything," Fister said of Jackson. "That guy flies. He covered my tail a lot tonight. And my hat goes off to him. He put on a lot of miles tonight."
Michael Brantley's leadoff single in the eighth was the only other hit until Carrera tripled again leading off the ninth. Fister tried to keep him there with a leaping attempt on Jason Kipnis' ensuing bouncer, but it eluded his grasp for a run-scoring groundout.
Fister (6-7) held on for his fifth win in his last six starts. He has lasted at least seven innings in each of his last five starts, allowing just seven runs on 25 hits over 39 innings with five walks and 37 strikeouts.
His only loss in that stretch came in Cleveland on July 24, dropping a 3-2 duel opposite Ubaldo Jimenez.
Jimenez, in fact, came in with a 2-0 record and 1.93 ERA in three starts against the Tigers this year. Once Jhonny Peralta tripled in two runs in the bottom of the fourth and scored on an Infante single for a 5-0 lead, the Tigers had more than doubled their run total off Jimenez for the year.
Jimenez (8-11) gave up six runs on seven hits over 5 1/3 innings. Peralta and Infante drove in two runs each.