DETROIT — There’s history that you set out to accomplish, and history that ... well, just more or less happens.
And when and where you least expect it to.
A pitch-to-contact guy who pounds the strike zone relentlessly and relies on late movement to not get pounded himself — making batters miss-hit, rather than miss entirely — Doug Fister is about the last guy you’d figure would have his name etched in the record books alongside guys like Roger Clemens, Tom Seaver and Nolan Ryan in terms of strikeout records.
Yet, there he was Thursday afternoon, striking out nine straight Kansas City Royals, breaking the American League record held by Clemens, Ryan and two others, and coming within one of tying Seaver’s Major League Baseball record.
“Well, probably not, no. No, I think when you think about strikeouts on our particular staff, obviously, you’re thinking about Justin or Max,” manager Jim Leyland said, referring to Justin Verlander (231) and Max Scherzer (228), who came into the day ranked No. 1 and 2 in all of baseball in strikeouts.
“But here’s a guy that throws 88 to 92 (mph), and set the record. So that’s why it’s a great game.
“He was stuck on automatic there for a while.”
As he had been in his previous start, when he threw a complete-game shutout, Fister was indeed on cruise control early, facing just two over the minimum through four scoreless innings.
At the end of the last of those is when the momentum began to change from one type of domination to another.
He’d strike out Salvador Perez looking to end the fourth, then strike out the next six batters over the next two innings, tying the franchise record (Denny McLain, 1965; John Hiller, 1970) with seven straight.
He’d start the seventh by getting Alex Gordon looking to tie the American League record (done by five pitchers, most recently KC’s Blake Stein in 2001), then get Billy Butler looking to set a new one, and move within one of Seaver’s MLB record.
Fister would get a one-ball, two-strike count on Perez, before the Royals catcher rolled over a slow grounder on an 84-mph cutter, grounding out to shortstop to end the streak.
“It was a good pitch, it was down and away, a good pitch to get a ground ball on. Doug, he doesn’t go for strikeouts, he just happens to strike guys out. To be honest, he’s always pitching a guy to get a ground ball somewhere and get a guy out. ... I don’t really care about the strikeouts,” said catcher Alex Avila, who didn’t know what was transpiring.
“Nobody did. When you’re playing, that’s stuff you don’t think about. I’m sure guys in the dugout knew, obviously because they have more time. If I wasn’t playing, I’d probably have known. But when you’re playing, you don’t really think about stuff like that. I’m glad they announced it, though, because that’s a big deal.”
That might have been the best part.
It was happening, but nobody involved knew it.
Certainly not the pitcher himself.
He was even a little disoriented when first baseman Prince Fielder yelled at him to step off the mound, to acknowledge the roaring crowd.
“Honestly, I had no idea. He was yelling at me to step off during the inning, and I kind of looked at him. Normally, he’ll do that, to slow me down, if I’m getting too quick, as an older guy, kind of helping me out,” Fister admitted.
“I thought that was kind of what he was doing there. He just said, ‘Hey, step off.’ I look at him, and he kept looking at me, and he said ‘Aw, I’ll tell you later.’ ”
Fielder tried to explain it to him, too.
“I said, ‘Congratulations, man. You made history.’ He was like, ‘What are you doing?’ He was locked in so it was kind of like, get away from me,” Fielder said. “I was like, all right, they’ll tell you.”
Fister was still confused as he headed to the dugout.
“I put my arm around him, and said, ‘Hey, what was that all about?’ Was questioning him, because he just had that big old smile, like he always does, and he said, ‘You don’t know?’ ‘No, what’s going on?’ He said, ‘Go in there, and all the guys will tell you,’ ” said Fister, who headed to the dugout, and confusedly asked Verlander what was going on, finally being told what exactly he’d accomplished.
“I got in there, and congratulations from the team was tremendous. Very humbling and ... such an honor.”
What he’d done was incredible.
He got Perez on four pitches to start the streak.
Then he struck out the side in the fifth, getting Mike Moustakas and Jeff Francouer swinging, and Brayan Pena looking. The whole streak took 36 pitches. Seven of the nine strikeouts were on four or fewer pitches.
“Fister, for those three innings was unreal. (His pitches) were diving and darting everywhere,” said Francouer, who admitted he and his teammates didn’t know what had happened until they saw it somewhere. “It’s crazy, to go through a whole lineup and strike everybody out. And I don’t think he threw more than four pitches to any of the batters.”
He’d get Johnny Giavotella and David Lough looking to start the sixth, then finish off his second straight “strike-out-the-side” inning by getting Alcides Escobar swinging.
“His stuff was unbelievable. Tremendous movement on his two-seam (fastball). Tremendous movement on his slider. We couldn’t get to it,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “We’re lucky we don't have four guys laying on the training table the way we were diving for balls.”
He’d get Gordon and Butler in the seventh to break the record.
“Basically the way the game played out, you have Fister doing something that nobody’s done since 2001, roll through consecutive punchouts to set an American League record,” reliever Phil Coke said. “It would have been cool if he got one more just because he would have tied the great Tom Seaver. He didn’t but he was unbelievable today.”
It won’t necessarily sink in right away, either.
“It’s very humbling experience. I really couldn’t put it into words,” Fister said. “Doesn’t change anything, but it’s one of those things after the season’s over, kind of look back and take a look at it.”