DETROIT -- Doug Fister hails from a law enforcement family in Merced, Calif. -- his father has been a policeman and then fire captain for more than 30 years, and his uncle was on the S.W.A.T. team -- and as a child he used to hang around as they practiced. From that experience he gleaned a guiding mantra of "One Shot, One Kill."
"That stuff still intrigues me, and I love being around it," said Fister, the Tigers pitcher who won ALCS Game 3 on Tuesday night. "Some of those ideas kind of translate for me into the game and into life. It's just really minimizing the mistakes you can make and really just focus on what you need to do."
The early results were poor -- the first three Rangers all singled to score the game's first run -- but two of the balls were hit softly, benefiting more from perfect placement past Detroit fielders. But Fister never deviated from his game plan of pounding the strike zone, and he held the Rangers in check over 7 1/3 innings, allowing two runs on seven hits (though only four after the first-inning barrage) and no walks.
Supported by three solo home runs and a postseason-awakening three hits from previously slumping leadoff hitter Austin Jackson, Fister led the Tigers to a 5-2 victory that cut the Rangers' ALCS lead to 2-1.
"He's got the perfect mentality for this," said pitcher David Pauley, Fister's teammate for two years in Seattle and now Detroit. "Very little bothers him."
Fister's ability to settle down and give the Tigers length was important given what difficulty the club has had in keeping their starting pitchers on the mound, either because of struggles or downpours. Staff ace Justin Verlander, for instance, has started three times and lasted past the fourth inning only once due to rain delays in the other two games, making Fister's bullpen-saving start extra important, especially with Games 4 and 5 scheduled with no off-days.
Talk about a reversal of fortunes: the Tigers started the series down two games to none and fell behind a run on hits by the Rangers' first three batters, but Fister pitched them to a victory that now guarantees Verlander another start in this series in Game 5.
And Fister looms on the horizon for a start in a possible Game 7, making the outlook look a bit cheerier in Detroit, where the lyrics of native son Eminem -- "You only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow, this opportunity comes once in a lifetime" -- now seems especially apropos.
There's another sort of length, beyond the 22 outs he pitched on Tuesday and the extra guaranteed game of the series, that matters to Fister's success: he's 6-foot-8 with gangly arms. While such height and such potential for torque inspires images of flamethrowers like Randy Johnson, Fister never lit up radar guns and by the minor leagues essentially gave up trying.
"There's a point when everybody realizes what you have, and you just have to come to terms with it and stay within yourself," he said. "One quote that I've always found is, 'Be the best version of yourself you can be.'"
He stands on the third-base side of the rubber, which exaggerates his long-arm release point, making the ball appear to come from shortstop, and the tailing action on his two-seam fastball makes him equally effective against righties and lefties. He does still hum it in there up to 92 or even 93 mph, but his fastball, which he threw three-quarters of the time, usually sits closer to 90, with a few changes and breaking balls for balance.
"You never know how it's going to roll, but getting early contact and using the defense is a main focus," Fister said. "Our bullpen has pitched their butts off. They needed a bit of a break, and fortunately tonight we were able to give that."
Against Texas Fister threw 102 pitches, 73 for strikes, and only twice fell behind a hitter 2-0 and never 3-0. He was relentless in the strike zone, falling behind a hitter even just 2-1 a total of seven times. He induced 13 outs on the ground to only six in the air with three strikeouts.
"I thought he put on a pitching clinic -- in and out, moving the ball around, moving the ball both sides of the plate," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said.
The Rangers' Colby Lewis was on track to match Fister for three dominant shutout innings, but Detroit's Victor Martinez led off the fourth with a solo homer, tweaking a muscle in his side in the process.
An inning later with two on and two outs, Lewis chose to pitch to Tigers star Miguel Cabrera rather than try his luck with Martinez, given the hitter's uncertain situation. Lewis' 0-2 fastball that was probably an inch off the outside corner when it needed to be a foot, and Cabrera drove it in the corner for a run-scoring double. (Adding insult to injury, Lewis then walked Martinez without even inducing a swing.) A Jhonny Peralta homer in the sixth and an RBI single from Jackson chased Lewis.
"Cabrera caught an up-and-away fastball that was supposed to have been out of the zone," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "Just didn't get it there. And from that point on, you know, they whittled him down."
Fister, on the other hand, showed little fatigue, other than one well-struck double in the eighth inning on the second-to-last batter he faced. The final batter, Endy Chavez, hit a chopper between the mound and first. Fister fielded the ball and personally escorted it to first base for the out.
"He goes out and runs all the time," Pauley said of his teammate's between-outings workouts. "He's an outdoorsman type, so he'd want to go climb a mountain the day after a start. That's the thing, when you think he's getting tired, he kicks it into a different gear."
Since his trade to Detroit, Fister has done just that: the Tigers have gone 11-3 in his 14 regular- and post-season outings, during which time he's allowed more than two runs only twice with a 2.37 ERA. He's been the best deadline acquisition in baseball and, though most of the Tigers' core will return next season, playoff baseball can be fickle, meaning they need to make the most of this one shot.