Fresh off a pair of ALDS victories, right-hander on tap for ALCS Game 2
BOSTON -- Max Scherzer walked into his media session on Saturday wearing a team hoodie with "41-26" stitched on the right side. The numbers looked freshly minted, and Scherzer admitted that they have significance.
"That's the Mizzou football score," Scherzer said. "Big win today against Georgia. I'm definitely going to be talking loud today."
The Tigers are more than happy to listen to the former University of Missouri star's gloating on Saturday as long as he is ready to go on Sunday. Scherzer will start Game 2 of the American League Championship Series against the Red Sox on Sunday at 8 p.m. ET on FOX, his first time on the mound since his two innings of relief work against the Athletics in Game 4 of the AL Division Series on Tuesday.
Key stat: Scherzer dominated against right-handed hitters this season, holding them to a .165 batting average and .275 slugging percentage.
Key stat: After returning from a neck injury, Buchholz is 3-1 and has only allowed eight earned runs in 30 innings over the last month.
At Fenway Park
2013: 1 GS, 0-1, 2.57 ERA Career: 4 GS, 1-2, 3.86 ERA
2013: 9 GS, 6-1, 1.99 ERA Career: 58 G, 57 GS, 27-14, 3.39 ERA
Against this opponent
2013: 2 GS, 1-1, 2.57 ERA Career: 8 GS, 2-4, 7.02 ERA
2013: N/A Career: 8 GS, 2-1, 3.58 ERA
Loves to face: Mike Napoli, 1-for-13, 5 K Hates to face:: David Ortiz, 7-for-15, 1 2B, 3 HR
Loves to face: Victor Martinez, 0-for-6 Hates to face:: Alex Avila, 3-for-8, 2 2B, 3 BB
Why he'll win: Scherzer, the favorite to win the AL Cy Young Award, went 2-0 with a 3.00 ERA in the ALDS.
Why he'll win: Buchholz doesn't need much run support. The Red Sox are 13-1 this year when scoring at least three runs in a game started by Buchholz.
Pitcher beware: Scherzer lost to the Red Sox in early September at Fenway, allowing two runs on five hits in seven innings.
Pitcher beware: Buchholz wasn't at his sharpest in Game 3 of the ALDS vs. the Rays, giving up three runs in six innings.
Bottom line: Scherzer has been strong on the road this year, going 8-2 with a 2.44 ERA, but will have to be sharp to limit the Red Sox.
Bottom line: Buchholz has limited hitters to a .158 batting average with runners on base this year, and will need to continue the trend against the Tigers.
Now he pitches with a chance to put the Tigers up 2-0 in the ALCS and send them back to Detroit with a commanding lead over the Red Sox.
Scherzer said there have been no after-effects from his first relief appearances since the 2011 ALDS, also against the Athletics.
"I'm on normal rest pitching Game 2, so I'm fully ready to go," he said. "Arm feels good. Nothing has changed from me having to relieve."
Those two innings, though, were draining. Scherzer entered the game in the seventh with the Tigers leading, 3-2, and gave up the tying run. After the Tigers scored two in the bottom of the inning, Scherzer went back to the mound in the eighth and right away gave up a walk, a double and an intentional walk to load the bases. At that point he had faced eight batters and allowed five to reach base.
"He told me that he was not used to it, and he showed me he wasn't quite used to it," manager Jim Leyland said. "I'm one manager that [has] never had a lot of luck with that, bringing a starter out of the bullpen. Obviously, I had to do it the other night. I felt like it was definitely the right move, but you could tell that he was a little unsettled."
Scherzer was able to get out the jam by striking out Josh Reddick and Stephen Vogt, and retiring Alberto Callaspo on a line drive to center. Joaquin Benoit closed it out in the ninth for a 5-4 victory, and Scherzer ended up as the winning pitcher.
Two days later, Scherzer said he was ready to pitch in relief again if needed in Game 5. He was motivated by third baseman Miguel Cabrera, who put together another outstanding offensive season despite dealing with several lingering physical issues.
"At this point in the season, if your arm is tired or anything, you're going to go out there, because everybody is going out there with injuries, and Miguel is the leader of that," Scherzer said. "He's playing through pain right now. He's been playing through pain the past couple of months. This is an all-out type of atmosphere, and when you see players like him, especially your superstar players, going out there and [doing] everything for the team, it makes you want to do anything for the team as well."
Turns out Scherzer wasn't needed in Game 5, but his contributions to the team's ALDS effort were more than sufficient. Scherzer was also the winning pitcher in Game 1, giving him two more victories after he'd won a Major League-high 21 games during the regular season.
Other than needing five starts to nail down his 20th victory, just about everything has gone right for Scherzer this season.
"I think he's one of those guys that it happens now and then, guys get on a roll," Leyland said, "whether it's the guy shooting three-pointers or a hot field-goal kicker or whatever it is. In sports guys get on a roll from time to time. And he's been a positive roll. He comes in relief the other day and ends up getting the win. After winning 22 games, he comes in and gets another one out of the bullpen. Sometimes guys get on a roll. And that's the type of year he's had."
Scherzer's final record -- 21-3 -- was helped considerably by his offense averaging 6.8 runs per nine innings when he was on the mound, the highest such average in the Majors. But his 0.97 WHIP was the lowest in the AL, and he was fifth in ERA, with 2.90.
That 0.97 WHIP was the third lowest in Tigers history behind two pitchers who were not only Cy Young Award winners but Most Valuable Players as well. Denny McLain had a 0.90 WHIP when he won 31 games in 1968, and Justin Verlander had a 0.92 WHIP when he won 24 games in 2011.
Scherzer was asked if his confidence has grown with along with his success this season.
"Absolutely not," he said. "My confidence level has always been the same, from the day I arrived into the big leagues to now. I believe confidence is a choice, and I always choose I'm going to believe that I'm always going to come out on top. It doesn't matter if you're struggling or if you're on top. You've always got to believe that you're going to have success. And this year I had the same confidence level I had my entire career."
He could use it on Sunday night, as he is 2-4 with a 7.02 ERA in eight career starts against Boston. That's the seventh-highest ERA against the Red Sox by an active pitcher with at least five career starts against them. He was 1-1 with a 2.57 ERA in two starts against the Sox this season, including a 2-1 loss on Sept. 3 at Fenway Park.
"Well, they're just a great team," Scherzer said. "They can grind at-bats out; they don't chase a lot. They foul off pitches. It all comes down to attacking the hitters and making sure I'm working ahead in count. I've got to be 1-2 before I'm 2-1. All the simple things in pitching. If I don't do that, it's going to make it an extremely uphill battle for me. If I feel like I'm working ahead in the count, I feel like I can be successful."