DETROIT -- Doug Fister was the most consistent starter the Tigers had down the stretch last year, and he looked like he was rounding into shape for more of the same this year. However, even Fister isn't immune to the inconsistencies plaguing the Tigers lately.
After allowing eight hits in the first three innings on Thursday, the difference in Detroit's 4-3 loss to Minnesota came down to the Fister delivery that Prince Fielder missed at first base, and the opportunities missed to complete another four-run comeback.
"We need one ball to bounce our way," Fister said. "If we get some of that, we're going to get some momentum and we're going to take off."
The Tigers have had chances for it, but no winning streak. It's simply been that kind of stretch. After a two-game series sweep at the hands of the last-place Twins, Detroit sits at two games under .500 for the first time in more than a full year.
That's not enough reason for the club to panic, but enough to have it perplexed and looking for answers.
The answer might well be all of the above.
"Every little thing bites you when you're not going good," manager Jim Leyland said. "Whatever it may be, it bites you when you're not going real good."
These two games, the answers were everywhere. A Wednesday night loss that featured four infield errors and a Rick Porcello exit after four innings arguably came down to not holding two different leads.
On Thursday, an unusually hittable Fister recovered from his early struggles, only to suffer from one big error and two big chances missed for the offense to knot the game.
Detroit hit three homers in a game for just the fourth time this season, but it didn't pull this one out in part because all three were solo shots, and they all came after the Twins had pulled ahead with 3-0 and 4-1 leads.
"I control what I can control," Fister said, "and I didn't get my job done. That's what's frustrating to me."
The right-hander sidestepped some early damage, giving up six baserunners out of Minnesota's first 11 hitters without allowing any to score. The same ground balls and short liners that were going for hits also helped him out with groundouts and a Joe Mauer double play in the third inning.
Fister paid for Josh Willingham's two-out walk after Mauer's double play when Justin Morneau and Trevor Plouffe hit back-to-back homers on fastballs.
"I didn't execute," Fister said.
Yet after Andy Dirks' running catch stranded two baserunners in the fourth, the defense didn't execute for him, either.
Fister tried to take responsibility for the three-base error on Willingham's comebacker leading off the fourth. He had to get off the mound to make a play, and the throw got past Fielder and rolled all the way into right-field foul territory.
That part, Fister argued, he can control.
"I threw it," Fister said. "I'm a sinkerball pitcher, and unfortunately it ran on me. I made the error, and I take full credit for it."
Replay, however, suggested that the throw was on line before Fielder tried and failed to catch it, possibly not seeing it. The play was conclusive enough that the official scorer gave the error to Fielder, not Fister.
Leyland said he couldn't tell from his angle. Regardless, with Willingham on third, the eighth Tigers error in three games was arguably the most impacting, as it created an easy RBI opportunity for Morneau to plate the game's decisive run with a groundout to second.
Two innings and three homers later -- the first from Brennan Boesch in the fifth inning, then Dirks and Fielder in the sixth -- that run loomed large. Those homers were also the only three hits off Twins rookie right-hander P.J. Walters.
"He gave up a couple of home runs, but that's attacking the strike zone," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said.
Detroit had big hits, but nobody on base for them. Its two chances to pull ahead featured guys on base, but no big hit, both double-play grounders with runners on first and second to end the seventh and eighth innings.
The bigger opportunity came when Glen Perkins missed the strike zone on 11 of his first 12 pitches in the eighth inning, walking Dirks and Miguel Cabrera before falling behind on a 2-0 count to Fielder. Perkins fanned Fielder before Delmon Young grounded sharply to second for a rally-killing double play.
The Twins went 2-for-12 with runners in scoring position, missing their chance to put the game out of reach early. The Tigers, in turn, went 0-for-4 in those same situations to miss their chance to come back late.
Neither team had won back-to-back games since mid-April. The Tigers are still searching, not just for wins, but momentum.
"I don't think the team's disappointing," Leyland said. "I think the performance, all of us, everybody, has been disappointing right now. But I love the team. I think it's a good team. I think it's going to come out.
"It's going to play well at some point. Everybody wants that sooner rather than later. Me too. I'm a little surprised, to say the least, but certainly all of a sudden I don't look up and say, 'You know what? We're not good as I thought we were.' We are a good team, but you prove that by going out and winning games."