Tigers thrown a curveball with Fister’s injury

Detroit Tigers pitcher Doug Fister leaves Saturday's game in the fourth inning with an injury. (Leon Halip/Getty Images)

This wasn’t how this was supposed to go.

Doug Fister was just heating up in the fourth inning of his first start when he missed his target and somewhat dismissively grabbed at his side. One pitch later, and that was that. Jim Leyland and the Tigers trainer made their way to the mound, signaling the end of the day for Fister.

Not at all how this was supposed to go.

The workhorse from the Seattle Mariners found a home in Detroit last year, pitching 216 innings between the two cities and posting a 1.06 WHIP. He quickly won over even the most skeptical of Detroit fans, pitching late into games and ending the season 8-1 with the Tigers. A sellout crowd at Comerica Park came to see if he could do it again (or to see Prince Fielder, or Miguel Cabrera at third, or the new giant scoreboard). A sellout crowd at the second game of the year – a game that typically boasts the lowest attendance all season. Smiles were big. Moods were good. Spirits were high.

And then this.

The Tigers had angled for a starter in the off-season, before the Victor Martinez incident, reportedly offering Roy Oswalt $10 million on a one-year contract. But he didn’t bite. So, here they were. Coming into 2012 with a few young guys from their farm system battling for the fifth spot in the rotation. It sounded just fine, with the lineup being what it is and the rest of the rotation being, well, what it was: Justin Verlander, Fister, Max Scherzer, and Rick Porcello. But now what?

Fister was a given. Sure, he’d had some finger soreness in spring training. But that was spring training. He was going to be just fine. We were supposed to be worried about Cabrera’s broken face, Brennan Boesch’s thumb and Brandon Inge’s groin. What? No? No. Okay.

But Fister. Huh. Didn’t see that one coming.

Duane Below took over for Fister in the fourth. To say the people were worried would be an understatement. The kid from Britton, Michigan (pop. approx. 700) had made his debut last year with a couple of starts and a few innings of relief – and he’d been convincing in those appearances toward the end of the season. But he’d also been a finalist in the battle for that fifth starter spot this year and fell short in the end. Expecting him to come in – cold – and continue Fister’s shutout seemed a bit, oh, I don’t know, optimistic.

But then he did it.

Below allowed just one base runner and earned his first big league win, as five pitchers combined for a shutout against the Boston Red Sox. And those weren’t the only highlights. Cabrera and Fielder finally hit their first back-to-back home runs. (Making us wait until game two – what is that?) They each had two home runs on the day. You heard me. Two. Each. Alex Avila joined in with one of his own. And Cabrera made the Web Gems with a defensive play – a diving catch at third. It’s going to be a fun season, isn’t it?

So, yeah, game two didn’t quite go as planned. And either will the next couple of weeks, while Fister is on the DL with a mysterious ribcage injury. Let’s face it – the next few months probably won’t go “as planned.” It’s baseball. Things happen.

But I’m not worried.

If the story of the game was supposed to be Fister dominating (which he did), and turned out to be about a local guy from a small town proving himself all over again, I’m good with that.

If it was supposed to be about Cabrera’s offense (which it was), and turned out to be about his awesome defense, too, I’m good with that.

If it was supposed to be about how the Tigers fall apart when any one thing goes wrong (which they didn’t), and ended up a story about how they still managed to pull off a 10-0 shutout of the Red Sox with Josh Beckett on the mound, dropping Boston to 0-2 on the season, well, then yeah, of course, I’m good with that, too.

No, this wasn’t how this was supposed to go.

Which is exactly what makes this team so great.

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