Tigers vs. A's, ALDS: Doug Fister's wild bout

Leon Halip

Without his full arsenal, the Tigers' fourth starter managed to survive an Oakland offense that beat up Anibal Sanchez a day earlier.

As I pointed out in my ALDS analysis, the Doug Fister / Oakland game looked like a terrible matchup for the Tigers with Fister's sinker going up against Oakland's uppercut swings. The physics gets even worse when you throw high sinkers to batters looking to launch.

Fister's first eight pitches of Game 4 were 2-seam fastballs. Perhaps it was all of the time off, but he was missing high. I watched helplessly, like a spectator watching a boxer forced into the ring blindfolded. I fully expected the season to end with the poor guy getting his head handed to him. Fister threw two sinkers to Coco Crisp with the second about belt-high going for a triple. He followed with five straight 2-seamers to Donaldson that were in the upper half of the zone or above and Josh lined the last one to right for a fortuitous out. Then Jed Lowrie pounded another sinker to left for a hit and a first-inning Oakland lead.

Out of necessity, Fister started to mix it up.  Perhaps that caused Brandon Moss to miss a high sinker and pop up and Cespedes to miss another high sinker and ground out. On another day, Fister's outing might have ended in the first inning with a crooked number deficit. But, on this day, the blindfolded boxer somehow wobbled back to his corner after one round with a slim chance to win.

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After some presumably intense discussion in the dugout, only one of Fister's first 10 pitches in the second was a sinker. But the result was a single, wild pitch, and a ground out to leave Seth Smith at third with one out. After a first-pitch 2-seamer missed to Stephen Vogt, Fister went cutter, cutter, curveball to get a comebacker for the second out. But he missed with three sinkers and a 4-seam to walk Eric Sogard.

Now Crisp is back up with two on and Jeff Jones is out to talk. He probably advised Fister to stay away from the sinker that he couldn't command and that Crisp had crushed for a triple to start the game. Fister threw everything else he had to Coco starting with curve, change, cutter, curve to get to 2-2. Finally, he tried another sinker, but missed high again. Crisp connected and the ball flew to deep right center. If it goes out, it's 4-0 Oakland and the season may be over. But the biggest part of Comerica swallowed and Torii caught the baseball.  Fister wobbled back to his corner again. He'd thrown 50 pitches through two innings, but the score was still only 1-0.

Fister spaced out three hits to the next 10 batters and appeared poised to escape the 5th when Lowrie yanked a cutter down the line that Torii just missed pulling back, and Oakland led 3-0.   But Jhonny Peralta answered with his three-run shot to tie it.  A day earlier, a Detroit starter with more working tools than Fister on this day had responded to the Tigers erasing a three-run deficit by immediately giving up three more. As fans held their breath, Fister answered the bell for the 6th. Pundits speculated that he would only face the right-handed Cespedes with Smyly throwing and four straight lefties scheduled to follow. But after Fister got Yoenis to ground out on a 3-2 changeup, Jim Leyland left him in. And the manager was rewarded as Fister retired Smith and Reddick using nine pitches with nary a sinker in the mix.

In 2013, the 2-seam fastball was easily Fister's favorite pitch making up 43.8 percent of his offerings with the curve a distant second at 20.0 percent. In a recent interview, he commented that his goal is to get 27 straight ground balls. In Game 4, he threw 61.5 percent two-seamers in the first inning but quickly realized it wasn't working. After the first, he survived with only 28.6 percent sinkers. Miraculously, he still got 18 outs and gave his team a chance.

Peralta, Victor Martinez, Austin Jackson and Max Scherzer provided some of the most thrilling moments of 2013 in Game 4. But none of those moments gets to happen if not for a blindfolded boxer courageously weaving for six rounds against a vicious opponent desperate for a knockout.

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