Fister's Houdini act sets tone for Tigers

Fister's Houdini act sets tone for Tigers

NEW YORK -- Doug Fister displayed remarkable tenacity in delivering 6 1/3 shutout innings Saturday night for the Tigers and that bulldog effort eventually carried over to his teammates as Detroit pulled out a 6-4, 12-inning victory in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series.

With ace Justin Verlander unavailable until Game 3 of the ALCS after pitching Detroit past the A's in the AL Division Series on Thursday, Fister stepped up with a strong opening performance and was on the verge of becoming the first Tigers pitcher to beat the Yankees twice in postseason history until closer Jose Valverde gave up a pair of two-run home runs in the bottom of the ninth.

ALCS

Coincidentally, it was two other former Mariners -- Ichiro Suzuki and Raul Ibanez -- who took away Fister's win and left him with a tough no-decision with their ninth-inning blasts. But the Tigers survived that stunning turnabout and came back to win the game in the 12th, which was all that mattered in the end to Fister.

"Everybody here is playing from the first out to the last, no matter what happens," Fister said. "Especially now, we're here in the Championship Series. Guys aren't going to turn over. Guys aren't going to give up. As long as we have one out remaining, we're going to give whatever we have to pull out a win and that's what we did here tonight."

Fister, who beat the Yankees in Game 5 of the ALDS a year ago, didn't have his best stuff in this one. But he might have had his grittiest performance, as he dug deep to escape a trio of bases-loaded situations before turning a 2-0 lead over to his bullpen in the seventh in a game in which he worked around six hits and four walks.

"Unbelievable," said Tigers catcher Gerald Laird. "He showed guts. I mean, this guy had three jams, bases loaded and gave up nothing. At one point, I was just having fun back there because he was making pitch after pitch.

"He had the curveball working, sinking 'em in. It seemed like he was getting better and better as he got in more and more of a jam. To get out of those against that kind of lineup just says a lot about his stuff and what type of competitor he is."

Fister, 28, has a history of bearing down in tough circumstances. He's held opponents to a .208 average with the bases loaded in his career and that mark is .071 (1-for-14, with two hit batters) this season.

Fister survived not only the trio of bases-loaded situations -- including Houdini acts with just one out in the second and sixth innings -- but also a hard-hit ball off his right wrist by Robinson Cano in the second inning.

"I took it off the wrist, kind of in the thumb area," he said. "It was a little stiff, a little sore, but nothing too major."

Tigers manager Jim Leyland had Drew Smyly warming in the bullpen as trainers examined Fister between innings, but he changed into a long-sleeved shirt to keep the wrist warm, headed back out and wound up pitching another 4 1/3 frames and throwing 106 pitches.

"We just said, 'We're going to try it and as long as you can go, go,'" said Fister. "That's kind of where we're at."

Fister struggled with his control early, walking the bases loaded in the first, but emerged unscathed when Jhonny Peralta made a nice diving stop of a hard grounder by Alex Rodriguez and got the close force of Ibanez at second.

He finished with four walks, tying his season high, while three of his five strikeouts came in his final inning when he sat down Rodriguez, Curtis Granderson and Russell Martin after the Yankees had runners on second and third with no out.

Though Fister's career numbers against the Yankees were an unimposing 1-2 with a 5.18 ERA in four starts coming in, the lanky right-hander has a history of pitching well in big games.

He proved his mettle in similar difficult circumstances when he maneuvered in and out of trouble in the Game 5 ALDS-clinching victory over the Yankees last year. He then beat the Rangers in Game 3 of last year's ALCS when he gave up two runs in 7 1/3 innings in a 5-2 victory at Comerica Park.

Fister also took a no-decision in his only previous start this postseason, but pitched well with seven innings of two-run ball on six hits in the Tigers' 5-4 win over the A's in Game 2 of the ALDS.

He said all those experiences, particularly the ALDS win over the Yankees a year ago, helped carry him through Saturday's outing.

"All the struggles I've been through and finding out who I feel like I am has kind of [led me] to this point," Fister said. "So I have drawn from it, especially tonight. I had some real rough innings and some times that I had to focus on one pitch at a time and getting that one location down.

"Tonight it just ended up working out. I felt like I couldn't keep myself out of trouble, but luckily I found ways to get out of the trouble."

Which, in the end, was exactly how the night turned out for all the Tigers as they found a way to survive.

Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.