Brian VanderBeek: Merced’s Fister joins the ranks of Giant killers


Right about now, the Giants can kick themselves for not digging a little deeper into their wallets 10 years ago.

Doug Fister could have been a Giant. For one year, San Francisco held his rights, having drafted the Golden Valley High School standout as a first baseman in 2004 after his sophomore season at Merced College.

But that phone call didn’t come until the 49th round – not exactly bonus baby territory – and despite being a fan of Bay Area baseball, Fister turned down the offer of little more than bus fare to rookie ball and transferred to Fresno State.

He eventually signed with Seattle as a pitcher in 2006 after being drafted in the seventh round, but two years earlier, the Giants obviously didn’t see Fister projecting as a major-league pitcher, and in their wildest projections not one capable of developing into a major thorn to the orange and black.

But now, he is. Fister is a bona fide Giant killer.

By pitching seven innings of four-hit, shutout ball Monday, Fister kept the Washington Nationals alive in the postseason, earning the win in what became a 4-1 decision in Game 3 of the National League Division Series at AT&T Park.

He’s faced the Giants three times in his major-league career. All three starts have come in San Francisco, and as fate would have it, all three featured Madison Bumgarner throwing for the Giants.

Fister was a hard-luck loser for Detroit in Game 2 of the 2012 World Series, but he’s beaten the Giants twice as a member of the Nationals, hurling 15 scoreless innings.

Fister’s numbers in those games: 21 innings, one earned run, or a seat at the table of dominance normally reserved for one – a guy named Kershaw.

And the irony? Fister doesn’t exactly relish pitching at AT&T Park.

“It’s one of those outside influences that I have to block out,” Fister said. “I do have a lot of family and friends here, and it is close to home, but once I’m on the mound, it’s all the same.

“I have to go out and do things the same way as I did in the regular season, and that’s always the main focus for me. I can’t change anything.”

It might not have looked as if Fister was struggling as he kept the Giants off the scoreboard in Monday’s early innings, but he said he didn’t feel particularly sharp. The combination of the close-to-home distractions and not having pitched in 10 days left him feeling juiced, and he needed 42 pitches to get into the third inning after leaving the bases loaded in the second.

“I guess you could say I was a little strong and was overthrowing it, getting up the zone,” Fister said. “I was a little amped up. I had energy, and while I felt I was focused, I almost had to fine-focus. It wasn’t quite where I wanted, and it was a battle for me early – mechanical and everything else.”

But as Fister and Bumgarner were matching zeroes, it was going to take some kind of break for either to be around long enough to get the victory.

As it turned out, the worst throw by any pitcher all afternoon was Bumgarner’s two-run scud toward third base on a seventh-inning sacrifice bunt by Wilson Ramos.

The errant throw not only gave Fister a shot at the win, but it kept him in the game. If Bumgarner makes the simple and correct play and takes the out at first base, the Giants would have walked Asdrubal Cabrera to load the bases and Fister would have been pulled for pinch hitter Ryan Zimmerman.

“Yeah, I think Doug’s out of the game; we’ll probably hit Zimm there and take our chances,” said Nationals manager Matt Williams. “We’ve got to try to score a run there.”

As it turned out, the Nationals’ bullpen went dormant as soon as two runners scored on Bumgarner’s error, and Fister was allowed to stay in to record the shutdown inning.

If the Giants win one of the next two games, the Nationals’ season will be over and Fister can start acting on whatever offseason plans he might have, his Game 3 outing little more than a footnote.

But if Washington somehow completes the comeback from being down two games in a best-of-five series and advances to the N.L. Championship Series, then Fister’s emerging mastery on the mound at AT&T Park will become part of the Nationals’ budding folklore.

Not bad for a 49th-round unsigned first baseman.