No. 900 for Gardenhire; Fister struggles
JUL 02, 2012 10:30p ET
DETROIT — Ron Gardenhire's team couldn't have found a more fitting way to get him a milestone victory Monday night.
Playing against the Tigers, a franchise Gardenhire has frustrated for years, the Twins recorded 13 hits — all singles — and five walks in the 900th victory of his career, a 6-4 victory.
"That's how he's taught us to play," Josh Willingham said. "We were playing a tough team with a great offense, and their pitcher had pretty good stuff. We just kept putting the bat on the ball, and kept finding the holes they gave us."
In typical Gardenhire fashion, he didn't take the milestone seriously and refused to take any of the credit for himself.
"I've already gotten texts from all of my fan-club members," he said. "There are four of them — my wife and my kids. If any of you want to join, it is only $15.
"But I look at this as 900 wins for the organization that gave me this chance, not for me. I tip my cap to the people above me, and to my players. All I've had to do is ask them to play the right way, play hard and respect the game. They've done the rest."
Monday, they didn't blast the ball all over Comerica Park — that isn't the Twins way. Instead, they played like "piranhas," as Ozzie Guillen once dubbed them — working the count, drawing walks and hitting the ball in the right spots.
The victim this time was Doug Fister, who came out of the bullpen with great stuff and went back to the clubhouse with his third consecutive loss.
"This was the best I've felt all year," said Fister, who has allowed 14 earned runs on 17 hits in his last two starts, lasting a combined 8 1/3 innings. "I had strength in my arm and I had a good feel for the baseball, but I just didn't execute."
Gardenhire talked about the effects of the early-game shadows at Comerica Park — the hitters can't see, so the pitchers can get away with below-average stuff. Tellingly, Fister didn't allow a hit in the first three innings, but then gave up eight hits and a walk in a span of 11 batters.
"As I got into the fourth inning, the ball crept up a bit on me," Fister said. "It wasn't much, but there's a big difference between just below the knee and just above the knee. I'm sure they made some adjustments and they found some holes, but I just didn't execute my pitches."
With the Tigers still trying to reach .500 — Monday was the eighth time since mid-May that they've been within a game and lost — Fister's three-game losing streak is a concern, and his 10.05 ERA in that stretch makes it clear that it isn't a fluke.
"He's just not real sharp yet," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "He missed five weeks, pitched a little bit and then missed another two weeks. We're just hoping that, going into the second half, he'll get some starts and sharpen up.
The issue took even more importance when the Tigers announced after the game that Max Scherzer will miss Tuesday's start with a hamstring injury. Leyland had to use five innings of relief after Fister's short outing and will have to use long-reliever Duane Below to start against the Twins in Game 2.
That meant more work for the Detroit-Toledo shuttle and the introduction of yet another player to the majors. Reliever Luis Marte and infielder Danny Worth were sent back to the Triple-A Mud Hens, to be replaced by relievers Jose Ortega and Darin Downs.
Ortega made his major league debut earlier this season, giving up the tying run in Cincinnati, but this will be Downs' first trip to the big leagues.
Downs, 27, has been pitching in the minors since 2003, but is best known for surviving a 103-mph line drive off his head in 2009. He had a fractured skull and paralysis on the right side of his face. Doctors feared that he might never speak again.
Remarkably, he made a full recovery and went 12-4 the next season in Tampa Bay's farm system.
Downs spent 2011 pitching in Double-A and Triple-A for the Marlins, and signed with the Tigers in the offseason. Now, less than three years after the accident, he's in the majors, just a few miles from where he was born in Southfield.