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Fister fine-tuned for another postseason run

DETROIT -- Doug Fister knows Oakland well from his days as a Seattle Mariner. He knows teamwork well from his days growing up in Merced, Calif., about two hours southeast of Oakland.

His father, Larry, spent more than 30 years working in the city's police and fire departments. His uncle works as a police detective. His grandfather worked in the sheriff's department, while his great-grandfather was a Nevada highway patrolman.

"For me, it started at a young age with the idea of the brotherhood of police department, fire department," Fister said. "Those kind of things, they carry over here. We depend on one another. We go through those struggles. We go through situations that we must rely on one another. That's the epitome of what camaraderie and brotherhood mean."

Tale of the Tape: Game 2
2012 Regular Season
Overall: 31 GS, 13-10, 3.74 ERA, 36 BB, 137 K
Overall: 26 GS, 10-10, 3.45 ERA, 37 BB, 137 K
Key stat: 4.83 ERA, 18 HRs on the road (16 GS); 2.74 ERA, 6 HRs at home (15 GS).
Key stat: 8-4, 2.67 ERA, 89 K in 15 starts since the All-Star break.
At Comerica Park
2012: 1 GS, 0-0, 5.79 ERA
Career: 1 GS, 0-0, 5.79 ERA
2012: 13 GS, 6-3, 3.21 ERA
Career: 20 GS, 10-5, 2.89 ERA
Against this opponent
2012: 2 GS, 1-0, 3.09 ERA
Career: 2 GS, 1-0, 3.09 ERA
2012: 1 GS, 0-1, 1.50 ERA
Career: 20 GS, 10-5, 2.89 ERA
Loves to face: Delmon Young, 1-for-6, 1 K
Hates to face: Avisail Garcia, 2-for-2, 1 R
Loves to face: Cliff Pennington, 1-for-21, 5 Ks
Hates to face: Coco Crisp, 6-for-12, 2 3B
Game breakdown
Why he'll win: Walked only 11 batters in 14 post-All-Star break games
Why he'll win: 2.67 ERA is third-best mark among starters since the break.
Pitcher beware: Lasted only 4 2/3 innings after giving up nine hits in two of his last three starts, including one against Detroit
Pitcher beware: Tendency to get hurt, missed time on three separate occasions in 2012.
Bottom line: Pitch like he did against the Tigers on May 11, when he gave up just one earned run on five hits in seven innings.
Bottom line: Impressive track record should spell victory.

When the Tigers were struggling through the summer to find their way to the division lead and hold onto it, those were the lessons he relied on. When Fister himself was struggling with oblique and groin injuries that never allowed him to find a rhythm as a pitcher until midseason, the support from teammates helped him through it.

He has returned to form, and it's probably no coincidence that so did the Tigers. The only major difference manager Jim Leyland pointed out between the lanky right-hander's impact this year and last is that his success down the stretch wasn't a shock.

"I think last year, it was like a bolt of lightning, what he did," Leyland said. "This year, it was more like the old shoe. He's comfortable here. Now we're comfortable with him. And we expect good things."

Fitting, then, that on Sunday, the Tigers are depending on the old shoe to get them through Game 2 in their AL Division Series. With a noon ET game after a night game, and a left-handed starter on the mound for Oakland against a Tigers lineup that has struggled against lefties off and on all season, they need a pitcher to set the tone.

After getting a 3-1 win behind Justin Verlander on Saturday night, the Tigers can take a commanding 2-0 lead with a strong outing from Fister. After a lost first half, he's in the form for it.

Maybe the expectations for Fister were unreasonable after he went 8-1 with a 1.79 ERA as a Tiger down the stretch last season. But he never really got a chance to follow it up. After a right middle finger injury in Spring Training shortened his preparation time, a rib injury in his first regular-season start knocked him out of action for a month. Five starts later came a left side strain that cost him nearly three weeks.

When he did pitch, he was more hittable, giving up 73 hits over 60 2/3 innings and a 4.75 ERA before the All-Star break. As good as he was last season, he became an example of a Tigers team struggling to follow up on last year's success.

For many, it was a disappointment. For him, it was a test.

"Confidence is what carries us in this game," Fister said. "It's having a chip on your shoulder in the right fashion, not having the attitude but being able to go out there and present yourself well and to play the game you know how to play. I think it's a great attribute of us that we did go through some of the struggles that we have gone through this year.

"It builds us, not only on the field but off the field, in here. It builds team camaraderie. It builds relationships with one another, going through some struggles makes us see who you are and find out what you have to do to come through that."

Few came through better than Fister, 8-4 since the All-Star break with a 2.67 ERA. Two of those wins were complete games, including a seven-hit shutout of the Twins on Sept. 22, leaving him averaging just under seven innings a start.

His second-half stats nearly mirrored those of Verlander, 8-3 with a 2.73 ERA over the same stretch, and Max Scherzer, 8-2 with a 2.69 ERA. His was the quiet performance that matched his personality.

He doesn't like the notion that he's back to what he was, because it was never his goal. Still, the results speak for themselves.

"I never take the mentality that I'm back," Fister said. "I'm always trying to say that I'm trying to fine-tune. I'm trying to make things better, just always trying to find a new way to get better. I feel if I say that I'm back, I'm getting complacent. If you're not getting better, you're getting worse. There's no staying the same."

His season has given him every reason to believe change is constant. His support, though, remained the same.

Jason Beck is a reporter for Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason.
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