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For about a half-inning, Max Scherzer’s unbeaten start was in jeopardy. But it was only a half-inning.
Once Victor Martinez erased the deficit with his first grand slam in two years, and his first hit with the bases loaded all season, Scherzer looked like he couldn’t lose. Once the Tigers added on late-inning runs to get into double-digits, Scherzer really couldn’t lose.
That’s the kind of year he has had so far. With Saturday’s 10-3 Tigers win over the Red Sox at Comerica Park, it’s now a historic season.
No Major League starter had gone 11-0 to begin a season since Roger Clemens did it 16 years ago in Toronto. The last 12-0 start, too, belongs to Clemens, way back in his breakout 1986 season in Boston. Scherzer will have a chance to enter that territory next Friday at Tampa Bay.
No starter in the illustrious history of the Tigers franchise had won his first 11 decisions as a starter to begin a season. George Mullin stood 11-0 in his 29-win season of 1909, but the 11th win came in relief, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
Scherzer Jered Weaver Angels Jersey will continue to call it a fluky record, and the run support he’s getting — and the support his fellow starters have not — will back him up on that. That’s why he insists it doesn’t mean much to him.
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“I realize it takes so many other teammates to put me in that position,” Scherzer said. “This is a credit to the Detroit Tigers for being in this position. I know I pitched well, and I know I gave my team a chance to win, but it doesn’t always go that way. To be 11-0, it means that everyone else around me has done their job, and I couldn’t be happier for everybody else.”
But as his manager pointed out coming in, he still has to pitch well to be in line to win a game more often than not. He leads the Majors in wins, and he’s now second to Yu Darvish in strikeouts and batting average allowed. His ERA, which stood at 3.42 four starts ago, is down to 3.05, just outside the American League’s top 10.
When Scherzer ended his outing with a strikeout of Jarrod Saltalamacchia, he joined Pedro Martinez as the only pitchers in American League history to begin a season with 15 consecutive starts of six or more strikeouts. Martinez holds the AL record with 29 straight in 2000.
The wins and losses might look fluky, but the statistics supporting it are not.
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“It’s been special,” catcher Brayan Pena said. “It’s not because he’s 11-0. It’s because he’s such a great competitor. He just goes out there and battles. He doesn’t worry about numbers. He doesn’t worry about nothing. He just worries about winning and keeping the game close and throwing strikes. That’s what he preaches, and he really followed that big time.”
Considering his history against the Red Sox, and what the Red Sox have done this season to lead the league in runs scored, it wasn’t simply the record that impressed with Scherzer.
When the Red Sox put up three hits in the first, including a David Ortiz home run halfway up the right-field seats, it looked like Scherzer’s history of blisterings from Boston was going to hold. Ortiz had his third homer and seventh RBI in 11 at-bats against Scherzer.
A day after Scherzer talked about the importance of working ahead in the count against Boston, he was falling behind. Once Martinez’s slam gave Scherzer a lead, he allowed as many hits in his final six innings combined as he did in his first.
Scherzer fell behind each of Boston’s first four hitters, then threw first-pitch strikes to 18 of the final 21.
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“To me, that’s a great sign of attacking their hitters, not being afraid of situations,” Scherzer said. “I felt like that was a major reason I had success tonight, because I constantly had them 0-1. When you do that against a good hitting team, you put yourself in a position to have success. I executed some pitches after that, and my defense made even better plays.”
Arguably the biggest pitch he executed, and the biggest out from his defense, both came against Ortiz in their next two meetings. He cranked up his fastball to 97 mph in the fourth inning, but once he missed with the fastball on a 2-2 pitch to run the count full, he brought out his curveball.
It’s the pitch Scherzer has honed specifically for left-handed hitters like Ortiz, but he hadn’t thrown it to him before — not just in the game, but ever.
“I didn’t have that last year,” Scherzer said.
He left it up, but Ortiz swung through it and missed for just his second career strikeout against Scherzer.
Scherzer threw just a few curveballs all night, and none to Ortiz again. With another full count in the sixth inning, two men out and a runner on, Scherzer went to his fastball. Ortiz didn’t pull it, but blasted it well over 400 feet to left-center.
It was the wrong part of the ballpark to do it. Austin Jackson, a day after missing a game with soreness in his left leg, ran it down just in front of the fence, preserving a 7-2 lead.
It had to seem familiar to Martinez, who has suffered all too often this year. When he got under a 95-mph fastball from Red Sox starter Allen Webster in the first inning, he wondered if the same might happen.
“I just knew that I hit it good,” said Jered Weaver Jersey Martinez, who was 0-for-8 with the bases loaded this season before that at-bat. “When I first hit it, I thought for sure I’d get an RBI, but the ball kept going and, thank God, it didn’t get caught.”
The ball landed in the first row of seats in right. Martinez added an RBI double in the fifth before watching a drive to left field die on the track in the eighth, but the homer was the key.
“It’s always good when you give an answer,” Martinez said. “They came in ready in the first inning and scored two runs. It’s always big to come right back, especially with Max on the mound. Everybody knows how well he’s been throwing the ball.”