Tigers trim deficit to two behind Fister, HRs
Right-hander allows two hits over seven; Jackson, Cabrera homer
By Jason Beck / MLB.com | 9/12/2012 1:46 AM ET
Jackson cranks a two-run shot to left-center
CHICAGO -- The Tigers awakened from their September slumber on Tuesday, just in time to even their four-game division clash with the White Sox. It wasn't an outburst, but after eight losses scoring two runs or fewer, they'll take it.
The way they continue to pitch, even when their top two pitchers aren't on the mound, they don't need much.
"It's good to kind of get the ball rolling a little bit," said Austin Jackson, whose two-run homer provided the turn in Tuesday's 5-3 win. "We definitely haven't been playing the way we're capable of playing. But at the same time, we've been playing some good teams, too.
"We're right in the ballgames. We just haven't been able to get that big hit when we needed it. They're starting to fall a little bit."
The pitching staff has been keeping the Tigers in games, and unless an unexpected slugfest happens over the final two games of the series, it will have to lead the way again if the Tigers are going to retake the momentum in the AL Central.
Tuesday's win ended a four-game losing streak and brought the Tigers back to within two games of the White Sox. With Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander starting the next two games, Detroit has a chance to head out of town Thursday night with a dead-even race and 19 games to go.
"Anytime you win a game, it's obviously huge, particularly this time of year," manager Jim Leyland said. "But I'll say the same thing I've always said: Momentum is tomorrow's starting pitchers. Whoever pitches the best probably will win the game."
The Tigers didn't get many hits to fall, and they still stranded the bases loaded in the seventh and eighth innings with a chance to put the game away, but they got enough.
For four innings, those fly balls were falling into gloves in the outfield and, in at least a few cases, on the warning track as they tried to solve Jake Peavy. When Alejandro De Aza ran down and snow-coned Jhonny Peralta's ball on the track in right-center field, the Tigers had one run to show for their first 13 innings in the series.
Yet they were close enough that after Omar Infante singled with one out in the fifth and Jackson sent a 1-0 pitch deep to left-center, they had a tie game. When Miguel Cabrera homered two batters later, they had a lead.
They also had their rallying point.
"I think it relaxed everybody when we got on the board a little bit," Leyland said. "We got that three-spot. The way Dougie was pitching, he had some quick innings obviously, and that's always good tonic for your team when you get out there and get right back in."
Fister had given up a couple of home runs of his own, both solo shots from Dewayne Wise in the opening inning and Gordon Beckham in the third. He nearly gave up a third when De Aza flew out to the warning track in right field three pitches later, and then a four-pitch walk to Kevin Youkilis gave Chicago a runner for the middle of its order.
That was it. Fister set down the next 14 batters, including two strikeouts on Wise and two groundouts from the previously hot Alex Rios.
"You give up homers, you don't mind doing that," Peavy said, "but they have to be solos like Fister [gave up]."
Fister (9-8) became just the third Tigers pitcher in recent history to pitch at least seven innings with two solo homers accounting for his only runs and hits. Scherzer did it two Septembers ago, also against the White Sox. Jeff Robinson did it in 1990.
Fister hadn't, mainly because he rarely allows multiple home runs in a game. But the shutdown stretch was reminiscent of the way Fister pitched last year down the stretch. He has shown flashes of it, notably in July and into early August before a tough stretch of starts and a groin strain.
He now has back-to-back seven-inning performances with no more than two runs. If the Tigers can get him going alongside Scherzer and Verlander, arguably their co-aces, they don't need their offense to erupt to win. They need a few timely hits to win, even if they miss on other chances.
They'd been held to two runs or fewer six times in their previous seven games, and it's clearly a trend that will sink them if it resumes. In that same stretch, though, they held opponents to three runs or fewer five times.
"I'm trying to make the adjustments that are needed," Fister said, "but it's definitely a step in the right direction. I don't want to say I'm in midseason form, but I'm still trying to make as many adjustments as possible."
So is the offense.
"Knock on wood, we've been pitching pretty good for a while. Tonight, we did muster a few runs," Leyland said. "It wasn't like we tore the cover off the ball, but we did pretty good. We got enough, but our pitching has been pretty darn good."
Setup man Joaquin Benoit gave up three straight singles in the eighth to plate a run and put the tying run on base with nobody out and the middle of the order due up. From there, he recovered to rack up three-pitch strikeouts of Youkilis and Wise before inducing an inning-ending groundout from Paul Konerko. Jose Valverde worked the ninth for his 29th save.