DETROIT —The fans at Comerica Park were on their feet and screaming as if their Tigers had just won the World Series. Doug Fister, trotting in with a one-hitter after seven innings on Thursday afternoon, couldn’t figure out why.
“Prince Fielder put his arm around me, and I put my arm around him,” Fister said of the scene near the dugout. “And I said, ‘What’s the deal?’
“He said, ‘You really don’t know, do you?’”
Fister had just set the American League record with nine consecutive strikeouts, after Royals first baseman Billy Butler took a sinker for a called third strike and the second out of the seventh. Salvador Perez then broke up the streak by grounding out to shortstop Jhonny Peralta to end the inning.
If Fister had fanned Perez, he would have tied the major-league record of 10 set by Mets Hall of Famer Tom Seaver on April 22, 1970.
Fister finished with 10 strikeouts overall and didn’t even figure in the decision of a 5-4 Detroit victory.
He had to settle for making history.
“I said, ‘Congratulations, man. You made history,'” Fielder said. “He was like, ‘What are you doing?’
“He was locked in, so it was kind of like, ‘Get away from me.’
“I was like, ‘All right, they’ll tell you.'”
Fister chuckled recalling the moment and said that Justin Verlander was the one to break the news.
Verlander, after waiting for the media crowd to disperse so he could get dressed in the stall next to Fister’s, smiled and said, “No, I did not tell you. You asked me.”
They then shared a laugh after a record-setting performance and another wild win in the pennant chase.
It’s one thing to not know you set a record.
“But I didn’t even know I had nine strikeouts in a row,” Fister said.
Now that the secret is out, and Fister knows that he did something that neither Walter Johnson, Nolan Ryan, Randy Johnson nor Roger Clemens accomplished in the 112 years the league has existed, what does it mean to him?
“It’s a very humbling experience,” Fister said. “I can’t put it into words.”
Perhaps it was Royals right fielder Jeff Francoeur who put it best: “Fister, for those three innings, was unreal. (His pitches) were darting and diving everywhere. It’s crazy to go through a whole lineup and strike everybody out.”
It started with Perez taking a called third strike to end the fourth. Then he got Mike Moustakas, Francoeur and Brayan Pena in the fifth. Johnny Giavotella, David Lough and Alcides Escobar were the sixth-inning victims.
Fister got No. 3 hitter Alex Gordon leading off the seventh to set the Tigers record that Fister had shared for one inning with Denny McLain (1965) and John Hiller (1970).
Next was cleanup hitter Butler, who later would tie the score with a solo homer off Joaquin Benoit. Fister got him to break the league record shared by Clemens, Ryan, Ron Davis and Blake Stein.
“His sinker was so good,” Butler said. “But a lot of guys disagreed with the strike zone. But he (home plate umpire Jeff Nelson) was consistent both ways.
“You have to credit Fister for hitting his spots. He had a good curve, a good slider and a good change-up to go along with that sinker. That’s not a good recipe for hitting success.”
“I was just going for contact, early contact,” Fister said. “That was my focus.”
With a fastball topping out at 91 mph, Fister was just trying to get the Royals to hit his pitches without leaving the ball out over the plate.
“The more I attack the strike zone, the better things turn out,” he said. “It’s when I nit-pick and try to hit the corners that I get into trouble.”
Being aggressive enabled Fister to get ahead in counts and maintain a quick rhythm. That put him in control and allowed him to pitch his game.
Tigers catcher Alex Avila said that while Fister studies hitters, he’s the one starter who does not like to develop a structured game plan.
“He goes out and sees and reacts,” Avila said.
Verlander, who has twice led the American League in strikeouts, said he’s never had more than “five or six” in a row.
“Doug does not have a blazing fastball or an unhittable slider,” Verlander said. “But he hits his spots with a lot of movement. And when he does that, it’s pretty hard to hit.”
Tigers manager Jim Leyland said it was a “shame” that Fister couldn’t get the victory to go with the record.