OAKLAND — The last time Merced's Doug Fister pitched in the postseason, he uncovered a telling fact: His head is harder than schoolyard asphalt.
Remember Gregor Blanco's second-inning line drive during Game 2 of the 2012 World Series, the smash that glanced off the side of Fister's head just above his right ear and ricocheted into short center for a single?
"Whoa!" plate umpire Dan Iassogna said as he came to the mound. "Doug, you OK?"
Fister, a 6-foot-8 tower of durability for the Detroit Tigers, shook off one of baseball's scariest moments. The mishap left only a bump on his head and no after-effects. Incredibly, the graduate of Golden Valley High hardly flinched.
Better still, he retired 12 in a row and carried a shutout into the seventh inning before he suffered a tough-luck 2-0 loss to the San Francisco Giants. Regardless, the episode remains a graphic example of Fister's toughness.
Nearly a year later as Fister prepares for his start today in Game 4 of the American League Divisional Series against the Oakland Athletics, he looks back at 2012 with some amusement. He's attached to that ball-on-skull collision like grapes to the vine. Simply, fans still are curious why he didn't collapse in a heap on the mound.
"Most people were worried about me. It was really a great experience no matter what happened," he said Friday night before Game 1 of the ALDS. "It was one of those lifetime experiences you never get back. I get the hard-headedness from my dad. As long as I'm still walking and able, I want to go (pitch)."
Jim Leyland, Detroit's seen-it-all manager, recalled Fister's brush with danger with his usual dry humor.
"He (Fister) is a competitor. He keeps the infielders and outfielders on their toes, because he works fast," Leyland said. "He's a terrific fielder. Didn't handle that one very good when he got hit, but he's a terrific fielder."
Fister, 29, plowed through a productive 2013, his second full season with Detroit. He went 14-9, a career high for wins, with a 3.69 ERA and 159 strikeouts in 2082/3 innings. He solidified his spot in arguably baseball's best starting rotation and contributed to Detroit's major league record strikeout total.
"A year ago in Kansas City, he had so many strikeouts in a row (an AL-record 9 straight), but normally that's not him," Leyland said. "He makes them mis-hit the ball, put it in play and makes his defense work."
Fister wasn't totally pleased with his performance this season.
"There were some ups and downs but it wasn't a bad year," he said. "It was good for me in that I had some things to work on like keeping the ball down."
He enters his third straight postseason with two things in his favor: 1. Growing experience, and 2. An unquestioned survival instinct. Today, he holds the Tigers' season in his right hand. They must win to force a decisive Game 5 Thursday night in Oakland.
Said Fister, "To be able to go through the trials and hard times really teaches you how to be prepared for it."
Bee staff writer Ron Agostini can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2302. Follow Ron via Twitter, @modbeesports.