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10/02/11 2:00 AM ET
Fister unable to pick up slack for Verlander
Pitcher confused Yanks early, but Tigers missed ace in Game 1
By Barry M. Bloom / MLB.com
NEW YORK -- It may be that the Tigers' loss of Justin Verlander in a rain-delayed and suspended Game 1 of their American League Division Series irrevocably swung the first-round momentum in favor of the Yankees. "I don't think that's the case," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "Both teams lost their aces. That's just the way it is, and you can't get it back. We'll have Verlander [on Monday] in Game 3 [at Detroit] and then go from there." By then the series could be fully controlled by the Yankees, who knocked around Doug Fister to win, 9-3, and take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-five series that continues with Game 2 on Sunday afternoon at Yankee Stadium. Fister, originally slated as the Game 2 starter, replaced Verlander after the opener was suspended because of rain on Friday night. Verlander pitched a shaky first inning, walking two and allowing Derek Jeter, who struck out, to reach safely on a wild pitch. Jeter scored on a grounder hit by Alex Rodriguez. Verlander, who threw 25 pitches, is now slated to go head-to-head in Game 3 with CC Sabathia, who pitched two innings for the Yankees on Friday night. It was almost surreal in the Stadium as the game resumed in the bottom of the second inning on Saturday night with the same lineups for both clubs -- sans the starting pitchers -- and the score tied at 1. In the press box, Fister was announced as the replacement for Verlander. But Fister said it wasn't so surreal for him on the field. "For me, that was a scheduled 8:37 start, and it wasn't anything different," he said afterward. "It's tied 1-1. It's basically a 0-0 ballgame in my head, just as always. I go up there facing the Yankee lineup, and it's no different for me if it's bottom of the first, top of the first. It's all the same." And completely different. First of all, Leyland was planning to pitch Verlander, his consensus AL Cy Young Award winner, twice in the series, having him ready and able to start Game 5, if necessary, back at Yankee Stadium on Thursday. Fister, who allowed six runs on seven hits in 4 2/3 innings, will have to take that call instead if it comes about. Secondly, Fister was forced to start a game with only 24 outs to play with. While that might seem a tad easier than the normal 27, it didn't play out that way on Saturday night. After a rough start, Fister had the Yankees jumping at breaking pitches out of the strike zone, and he recorded five quick whiffs by the time the end of the fourth inning came around. The Yankees then stopped hacking and made Fister put his pitches in the zone. That resulted in a couple of walks and a big crooked number six on the scoreboard in the sixth inning. Had Robinson Cano's shot that hit the top of the left-field fence in the fifth inning hopped into the stands instead of back on the field for a double, matters would have been even worse. Fister said the Yankees really weren't approaching him differently as the game wore on, but the results overstated the obvious. "They put a few good swings on the ball," Fister said. "[Catcher] Alex [Avila] and I were trying to keep them off-balance. They just kept attacking. We tried doing our best to mix them up and put the pitches in the right location. I missed my location on a few of them, and obviously they made me pay." Before the rains came and suspended the game on Friday night, Leyland had his pitching rotation set up just the way he wanted it: Verlander, Fister and Max Scherzer for Game 3 in Detroit, where he is much more effective in the wider expanses of Comerica Park. Verlander was wasted by the weather, Fister was wasted by the Yankees and Scherzer must now face the Bombers in the Bronx. On April 3 here, Scherzer lasted just five innings, allowing six runs on nine hits, including four homers. On May 4 in Detroit, he was much more on his game, throwing eight innings of four-hit shutout ball. He won both games, but then you get the picture. If Scherzer can calm those demons and help tie the series, then the turning point will be Verlander against Sabathia on Monday night. If he doesn't, then the turning point was the Tigers losing their ace after only one inning because of the weather.
Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.