In one of the most crucial starts of his career, Detroit Tigers right-hander Doug Fister turned in a masterful performance Tuesday. He threw seven innings, gave up two runs on just two hits and led the Tigers to a 5-3 victory over the Chicago White Sox.
Fister had electric stuff on the mound for Detroit, throwing 64 of 99 pitches for strikes, striking out six batters and walking just two.
Detroit's win, which snapped a four-game losing streak, was the first Tigers victory on their current 10-game road trip. Most importantly, it brought the Tigers back within two games of first-place Chicago.
Detroit stayed in the American League Central pennant race with clutch hits and earned an imperative victory away from Comerica Park, which are two things the Tigers have been awful at executing all season.
“Dougie was just terrific,” Tigers manager Leyland said to the Detroit Free Press after the game. “Just two solo home runs. We did the things that usually end up to a win – good pitching, some timely hits.”
Unlikely heroes Andy Dirks and Omar Infante each had two hits, Miguel Cabrera and Austin Jackson blasted home runs and Alex Avila got into the act, knocking in what would be the game-winning RBI in the eighth inning.
After the White Sox hit two solo home runs, the Tigers trailed 2-0 in the third inning when Jackson tied it up with a two-run shot. Two batters later, Cabrera hit a no-doubt shot to give Detroit the lead.
Fister continued his dominance, mowing down 14 straight batters, before the Tigers came to the plate in the top of the eighth. After two of Detroit's most consistent hitters put the offense in position to win, Avila—one of the most inconsistent sluggers this season—gave the Tigers a huge insurance run with a one-out RBI single.
Dirks added another RBI single an out later, extending the Tigers' lead to 5-2, and Fister gave way to Joaquin Benoit.
“For me personally, it’s a step in the right direction,” Fister said to the Free Press. “Still trying to manipulate and fine tune and make the adjustments that are needed, but tonight was a step in the right direction.”
As a microcosm of the Tigers' season, Benoit badly struggled, giving up three consecutive singles to start the bottom of the eighth and allowing the White Sox to climb back within two runs.
The Tigers' right-handed reliever bounced back to strike out Kevin Youkilis and DeWayne Wise, and forced Paul Konerko to ground out to end the inning.
After five days of rest, closer Jose Valverde entered in the ninth and gave up an infield single before getting the next three hitters. By earning the save, he helped prevent the White Sox from taking a four-game division lead.
It seems like confidence in the Tigers around the city of Detroit has dwindled. A five-game losing streak, combined with a four-game division deficit with just 21 games to play, might have been too much to overcome for this much-maligned team.
Instead, an emotional comeback victory on the road might be just what was needed to finally get the Tigers over the hump.
If the Tigers win the last two games against the White Sox, they'd pull into a first-place division tie and would have all the momentum going into the last three weeks of the season.
The next two games are monumental.
This is what September baseball is all about.