Like Doyle Alexander back in 1987, Doug Fister cleared the way for the 2011 Tigers to win their division and steam into the playoffs.
But, Game 5 Thursday night in Yankee Stadium? That's where the Tigers need the comparisons to come to a screeching halt.
The Yankees, meanwhile, will do just fine if the striking similarities continue for one more night.
"Fister is a really good pitcher," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said on Wednesday's off day in New York. "I have no idea what's going to happen. [Ivan] Nova is a good pitcher. He beat us in the first game here. ...
"Both of them are very good pitchers. It's one game. I don't know what's going to happen. Somebody can get a good bounce or a bad bounce. Somebody can hit a dramatic home run. Somebody can make an error. I can't predict that."
You couldn't predict the amazing mirror images that Fister and Alexander have provided in Tigers history, either.
Bill Lajoie, the gruff and brilliant baseball man who passed away last December, was the general manager of the Tigers when they traded a young John Smoltz to Atlanta for Alexander in mid-August of '87.
To this day, it remains a deal hotly debated by Detroit baseball fans because, while Smoltz blossomed into a certain Hall of Famer, the deal still accomplished perfectly what the Tigers needed at the time. And I do mean perfectly: Alexander went 9-0 with Detroit, and the Tigers needed every single one of those victories as they fended off the Blue Jays on the last day of the season.
Fister, meantime, went 8-1 with a 1.79 ERA for the Tigers after GM Dave Dombrowski acquired him from the Mariners on July 30. More importantly, the Tigers went 9-2 in games Fister. Before his arrival, when that spot in the rotation came around, the Tigers had been 4-17.
Colleague Danny Knobler was combing through some statistics recently, and came up with this: Fister's 1.79 ERA came in 10 starts. The only Tiger in the last 38 years to make that many starts in a Detroit season with a lower ERA than that? Try Alexander, with a 1.53 ERA in 11 starts in '87.
Separated by 24 years, the parallel paths of Alexander and Fister continued into the postseason.
Alexander, in his first postseason start in '87, was hammered by Minnesota in the Metrodome in Game 1 of the AL Championship Series. He served up six earned runs and eight hits in 7 1/3 innings and allowed two home runs, both to Gary Gaetti.
Fister, technically, has not made a start in this year's Division Series because of the odd Game 1 rainout that resulted in a suspended game. Fister "started" the next day, on Saturday, and was cuffed for six earned runs and seven hits in 4 2/3 innings. He walked two. He balked. Ugly, ugly, ugly.
Leyland hopes to see a sharper curve from Fister tonight.
"I didn't execute a few things," Fister said of his Saturday start in New York. "A good lineup makes you pay for it. That's what they did the other night. It's going to be a new fight [Thursday] night. I'm still going to go out there and approach the game the same way that I did before. I'm going after hitters and using my defense and obviously letting the offense do the work."
Back in '87, things did not improve for Alexander in his second -- and final -- postseason outing for the Tigers. With Sparky Anderson's club facing elimination in Game 5 in Tiger Stadium, the Twins clobbered Alexander again. In just 1 2/3 innings, he surrendered four earned runs and six hits. By the time it was finished, his smoldering ERA was resting at a vastly imperfect 10.00.
Fister? If the weird trend continues, the Tigers are doomed.
Likes: You can't beat three of the four Division Series going the full five games. Last time that happened? How about 2001, when Seattle (which beat Cleveland), the Yankees (Oakland) and Arizona (St. Louis) each won Game 5. ... The cheeseburgers at Miller's Bar in Dearborn, Mich. As good as they get. ... Detroit Beach Restaurant and Pizzeria in Monroe, Mich. ... Running through the Henry Ford Museum & Greenfield Village grounds. Beautiful. ... The hints of orange and yellow now streaking the leaves in the Midwest.
Dislikes: Sleep well, Steve Jobs. What a legacy.
Rock 'n' Roll Lyric of the Day:
"As pretty as you are
"You know you could`ve been a flower
"If good looks were minutes
"You know you could have been an hour
"The way you stole my heart
"You know you could have been a crook
"And baby you're so smart
"You know you could have been a school book"
-- The Temptations, The Way You Do The Things You Do