Likely AL Cy Young Award winner tries to help Tigers avoid elimination
DETROIT -- The Tigers are one loss away from elimination and must win two in a row at Fenway Park to reach a second straight World Series, but they had two valid reasons to feel good about their situation late Thursday night: Max Scherzer in Game 6, Justin Verlander in Game 7.
Their comeback will start with the likely American League Cy Young Award winner.
"I definitely think Scherzer is going to give us a really good opportunity to go out there and win us a ballgame," Tigers right fielder Torii Hunter said after the 4-3 loss that put his team in a 3-2 hole in this best-of-seven AL Championship Series.
"He's been good all year," first baseman Prince Fielder said. "It definitely gives us a good shot."
In pressure-packed games like these, when an entire season can hinge on a play and a pitch and an inch, simplifying things is usually the best course of action.
"Baseball is still the same, 60 feet and six inches, and you have to throw strikes," Scherzer said. "The expectations and pressure doesn't mean you change."
But something, Scherzer admits, has to change when he takes the ball opposite Clay Buchholz (8 p.m. ET on FOX). It'll be the second time in six days that Scherzer faces a Red Sox team that led the Majors in runs this season, after seven masterful -- albeit spoiled -- innings of one-run ball in Sunday's crushing loss.
2013: 3 GS, 1-1, 2.14 ERA Career: 8 GS, 2-4, 7.02 ERA
2013: 1 GS, 0-0, 7.94 ERA Career: 8 GS, 2-1, 3.58 ERA
Loves to face: Mike Napoli, 1-for-13, .220 OPS Hates to face: David Ortiz, 7-for-17, 1.524 OPS
Loves to face: Torii Hunter, 4-for-27, .480 OPS Hates to face: Alex Avila, 5-for-11, 1.481 OPS
Why he'll win: Red Sox couldn't touch him in Game 2
Why he'll win: Shows command of fastball
Pitcher beware: Red Sox have hit him well in the past
Pitcher beware: Missing location: he's allowed three homers in two postsesaon starts
Bottom line: Scherzer has been at his best this postseason
Bottom line: If Buchholz can hit spots, he's proven the ability to dominate
"It changes," Scherzer said of his approach, "just because they're familiar with what I did. Obviously, they're going to be cranking through the film and watching what I did, sequences and things -- when I threw offspeed pitches, when I didn't. I have to be ahead of the curve. I don't know exactly what I'll do, but there will be things I do differently."
In Game 2, Scherzer didn't give up his first hit until there were two outs in the sixth inning. He wound up surrendering just two of them, while walking two batters and striking out 13 in a 108-pitch outing that finished just before the bullpen would implode in the final two frames. It was a start that only added to what will likely be a Cy Young season for the 29-year-old right-hander, with a 21-3 record, a 2.90 ERA, an AL-low 0.97 WHIP and 240 strikeouts in 214 1/3 innings.
But even a guy as good as Scherzer can be more vulnerable a second time around.
Over the last five years, there have been 67 instances when a starter has taken the ball twice in one playoff series. The first time around, they have a 3.64 ERA. The second time, it jumps to 4.13. Included in that is Anibal Sanchez, who pitched six no-hit innings in Game 1 and allowed three runs in the second inning in Game 5.
"I think there's something to be said for that," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "I'd be lying if I didn't."
Leyland recalled A's starter Sonny Gray in the AL Division Series. The Tigers had never seen Gray when he took the mound for Game 2, and the 23-year-old right-hander pitched eight shutout innings. In Game 5, though, he lasted only five innings, giving up three runs on six hits and four walks.
"So I think it does make a difference if you've seen a guy," Leyland said. "I think it gives you a little help. If he's really good -- like you hope your pitcher will be good -- it doesn't necessarily mean anything. But it does help, I think, if you've seen a guy. I think the Oakland series with Sonny Gray was probably a great example."
The Tigers are hoping the 2011 ALCS wasn't a great example.
Scherzer faced the Rangers in Game 2 of that series and provided a quality start, giving up three runs in six innings. Five days later, he took the ball for Game 6, gave up six runs, recorded only seven outs and watched Texas advance to the World Series on the heels of a 15-5 thrashing.
"I have to do something different," Scherzer said of his Saturday outing. "They're too good of a team to roll out with the same game plan. I'm going to change mine a little bit, tinker it, but at the end of the day, I have to execute my pitches. No matter what my plan is, I have to execute."