The Detroit Tigers blanked the Tampa Bay Rays this afternoon behind seven innings of five hit ball from Doug Fister and a bit of help from Rays’ right fielder Matt Joyce.
With runners on the corners and one out in the ninth inning of a 2-0 game, Tigers Closer Jose Valverde was once again on the ropes. Sam Fuld lifted a fly ball to right, but Joyce, who was the runner at first, took off early and never picked up the ball. Ryan Raburn made the routine catch and fired to first to double off Joyce, preserving the shutout.
Fister was perfect through 4.1 innings before Casey Kotchman‘s liner glanced off the glove of a diving Wilson Betemit. Throughout his start, Fister kept the Rays hitters off balance with pin-point command of his fastball and secondary pitches. He ended his out with five strikeouts and zero walks.
It was the kind of performance the Tigers needed in order to have a chance today. Missing three all-star caliber bats from their lineup with Breenan Boesch (thumb), Miguel Cabrera (paternity leave), and Alex Avila (rest) all out of action, Fister needed to be close to perfect today. And he delivered.
The Tigers took the opener on Monday behind Justin Verlander. That one was to be expected, but the Tuesday game looked like a mis-match with Brad Penny going against David Price and no late inning relief available for the Tigers. Penny was effective in holding the Rays to a single run through 6.1 innings and Phil Coke came through with a six out, 50+ pitch performance to nail down the win and steal game two. The Tigers dropped a game last night when they couldn’t mount an offensive attack against Wade Davis, the game ending on a strange fielder’s choice when Brandon Inge elected to try to get a force at second, but was too late to get the runner, allowing the winning run to score.
With the lineup looking as it did today (Betemit started in the five-hole), it was almost as if the Tigers were conceding a series split, but Fister and Jackson would have none of it. What very easily could have been (and maybe should have been) a three games to one series loss, turned out just the opposite for the Tigers.