By George Sipple, Detroit Free Press –
DETROIT — An announced crowd of 33,019 witnessed strikeout history by Doug Fister, a comedy of errors in the infield by the opposition and a game-winning RBI for the Tigers in the bottom of the ninth in the final home game of the regular season.
With one out and the bases loaded, Alex Avila hit a grounder to first off pitcher Kelvin Herrera. First baseman Brayan Pena snagged it falling down and touched first to record the groundout, but Don Kelly came home from third, giving the Tigers a 5-4 win on Thursday afternoon at Comerica Park.
“(Herrera) threw him an 0-1 split that he throws like 98 or 100 miles an hour, so that’s not an easy at-bat,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. “When (Avila) got to 3-2, he felt better because he knew he was going to get the fastball. He could just charge it.
“He threw him one 2-2, a split, and Alex was able to lay off it, which is tough to do. It was just a great at-bat, a great win, and we move on to Minnesota.”
Fister set an American League record with nine consecutive strikeouts, starting with the final out of the fourth until Salvador Perez grounded out to end the top of the seventh.
Tom Seaver holds the major league record with 10 consecutive strikeouts for the Mets versus San Diego on April 22, 1970.
“I didn’t really have any idea,” Fister said of the record.
Fister said teammates weren’t treating him any differently in the bottom of the sixth. He didn’t understand why fans let out a collective groan on the groundout until he came to the dugout.
When Fister said that fellow starter Justin Verlander told him the news, Verlander, who sits at the locker next to Fister in the clubhouse, quickly corrected him: “No, I didn’t tell you. You asked. You asked.”
Fister — who finished with 10 strikeouts — said it was a “special thing” to have teammates cheering for you.
“It’s a very humbling experience,” he said. “I really couldn’t put it into words. It doesn’t change anything, but it’s one of those things after the season is over, kind of look back and take a look at things. That’s when I’ll kind of re-evaluate and appreciate it.”
Avila, who caught the nine straight strikeouts, was happy to be part of history.
“In my short catching career I’ve been able to catch a few really good games and some no-hitters and stuff like that,” Avila said.
Kansas City’s Mike Moustakas had three errors at third on Thursday, and the Royals had five total.
The Tigers led, 4-0, until the eighth, when Fister gave up consecutive doubles to Moustakas and Jeff Francoeur. Fister gave up four hits and three runs in the inning before he was replaced by Phil Coke.
With Jose Valverde unavailable because of illness, Joaquin Benoit came in to pitch the ninth and gave up a game-tying solo home run to Billy Butler.
Prince Fielder doubled to start the bottom of the ninth.
With one out and the bases loaded, Avila made contact to bring in the winning run.
“When I hit it, I thought it was down the line, and then all of a sudden I see (Pena) dive and catch it,” Avila said. “If he would have thrown it home — since he tagged first, there’s no force play anywhere. He would have had to go to second or home first to get a force play. Luckily he tagged first, then juggled the ball and couldn’t get it out, and we were able to get the run.”