October 02, 2011
Game 2 of the ALDS at Yankee Stadium may not have been a must-win for the Detroit Tigers in the truest sense of the term. But in an effort to avoid taking an 0-2 deficit back to Comerica Park, it certainly did feel that way.
The situation put Max Scherzer(notes) in the position of pitching a pivotal game for the Tigers —a situation that he passed with flying colors. With his slider rating as "nasty" and his changeup keeping the Yankees' hitters off balance, Scherzer allowed just two hits over six innings in the sort of effort the Tigers expected from their starting pitching early in this series.
Here's the thing, though: If you had told the team that a Tigers pitcher would have started one of the first two games without allowing a hit over the first 5 1/3 innings, they might've believed it.
Though Scherzer probably has the most talent of any pitcher on the Tigers' staff besides Verlander, the fact that he was originally slated to start Game 3 for Detroit indicated his standing in the team's rotation. He won both of his starts against the Yankees this season, but he allowed six runs and four homers over five innings in his only Yankee Stadium start.
Scherzer has the kind of stuff that can make any opposing lineup look feeble. But struggles to repeat his mechanics and find the right release point lead to inconsistency that make him just a bit less than reliable.
In his second year with the Tigers, Scherzer began the season looking like the staff's second ace, going 4-0 with a 3.82 ERA in his first six starts. (Early on, he was pitching better than Verlander.)
But the familiar problems with repeating his delivery developed once again, and he became something of a question mark through the rest of the season. That helped create the prevailing sentiment that Detroit essentially had a one-man starting rotation.
That stressful delivery and stuff better suited to missing bats than finding contact also forces Scherzer to run up pitch counts and leave games after five or six innings.
His performance on Sunday through six innings presented manager Jim Leyland with a bit of a dilemma. The Tigers had a 4-0 lead and Scherzer had allowed only one hit. Should he come back out for the seventh inning?
Leyland indeed brought Scherzer out for the seventh, hoping he could save setup man Joaquin Benoit(notes) for the eighth. But Scherzer put the first two batters he faced on base, forcing Leyland to pull him before losing control of the game.
The Tigers held on for a 5-3 win, tying the ALDS at 1-1. That's due in large part to a pitcher who showed his dominating side. Scherzer was only scheduled to pitch once in this series. That might be good news for the Yankees.
But if the Tigers end up advancing, their next opponent has to think about facing three strong starting pitchers, not just one or two.