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Season on line, Fister ready for crucial Game 4 start

Righty tasked with extending ALDS to fifth game back in Oakland

DETROIT -- On a warm, late August evening at Comerica Park, Tigers right-hander Doug Fister had one of those nights. He lasted five innings, giving up seven runs on 13 hits.

Hey, it happens. It would barely be worth mentioning almost six weeks later, except that the opponent in that lopsided loss was the Oakland Athletics, the team he'll face in a win-or-go-home Game 4 of the American League Division Series on Tuesday night at 5 p.m. ET, on TBS. So it's natural to wonder what hard lessons he learned that evening, what adjustments he'll try to make.

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"I try and take goods and bads out of every start," the 29-year-old said. "That was a while ago, and I was struggling about that time, trying to keep the ball down and really trying to fine tune some of my pitches. They know what we do, we know what they do, and it's a matter of going out there and executing. I think that's the biggest thing for us is go out there and execute, get the job done, make sure you've done your homework, preparation and that you're ready for that game."

To help prepare, he can draw on the knowledge of his teammates.

"For us as pitching staff, especially as starters, we sit in the dugout and really help each other. It goes unsaid, but we're all working together and pulling in the same direction and trying to stay on the same page with one another," Fister explained. "It's kind of a game that we play, trying to stay on the same page as the starter for that day. Would we throw the same pitch they just threw and helping each other read hitters or whatever we can do to help that day is what we can do."

Fister is the overlooked member of the Tigers postseason rotation. He's not the guy who went 21-3. That would be Max Scherzer. He's not the guy with a Cy Young Award and AL MVP Award on his resume. That's Justin Verlander. He's not the guy who had the league's lowest earned run average this season. That's Anibal Sanchez.

His 14 wins and 3.67 ERA aren't overlooked by the Tigers, of course.

"He's one of our four," manager Jim Leyland said. "He's a competitor. He keeps the infielders and outfielders on their toes because he works fast. He's a terrific fielder. He has movement and his forte is to make them miss hit the ball. He makes them mis-hit the ball, put it in play and makes the defense work."

Fister is a Bay Area native who grew up dreaming of playing for the Athletics or Giants. So facing Oakland at this time of year has added meaning for him.

"When I [went to games], I would always tell my folks that I always wanted to play there," he said. "I would always make that my goal. I always wanted to be able to play in those stadiums growing up. Even driving by it was, 'Hey, someday that would be cool to be able to play in.'

"I get a lot of family and friends coming to the games and everybody at home is watching. It's a familiar area, familiar grounds for me to play against those colors. So it's a little extra special, especially in the playoffs."

Being the Game 4 starter is a best-of-five series is a special circumstance. The pitcher is either trying to clinch it or keep his team alive to play one more game. After Monday's 6-3 loss to the Athletics, Fister's role is to help keep the Tigers from having to pack for the postseason

"It's not going to change anything. It's the same as any other start that we have made all year," he said. "It's one of those things that I'm honored to be able to pitch, period. When your name is called, you're ready to go. And that's kind of the way things have been and that's my mindset. We've just got to out there and play like we always would."

Paul Hagen is a reporter for

Detroit Tigers, Doug Fister