Lack of support sends Scherzer to second loss
Iglesias' RBI double all the damage for Detroit off Lester
BOSTON -- Jim Leyland is tired of the criticism being thrown at Max Scherzer for the run support he has been getting.
"Some people can find a flaw in Bo Derek," Leyland said on Tuesday afternoon.
Perhaps what followed on Tuesday night, then, was destined to happen. Scherzer wasn't flawed in the Tigers' 2-1 loss to the Red Sox. He was just fated.
"Max certainly pitched good enough to win tonight," Leyland said. "We just didn't win."
On the night Scherzer had a chance to join Roger Clemens as the only pitchers in Major League history to go 20-1, and with Miguel Cabrera back in the lineup supporting him, the Major League leader in run support lost a duel to Jon Lester, a pitcher the Tigers had hit around for most of his career and pounded at Comerica Park in June.
Scherzer had given up two homers and five runs in five innings against Oakland five days earlier and escaped defeat when Detroit put up a four-run ninth. He gave up four singles and a double over seven-plus innings at friendly Fenway Park and had to lament one ground ball through the middle, on a hanging slider to Will Middlebrooks.
"I pitched well," Scherzer said. "I did some really good things tonight. But I got beat on one pitch."
Scherzer has insisted throughout his historic start that wins and losses can be fluky for a pitcher. This one might be his best evidence yet.
In striking out the top three hitters in order in the opening inning, and five of Boston's first 10 batters through three, Scherzer looked as dominant as he has since the All-Star break. He not only powered his fastball, he commanded it so well that he needed little else early. His secondary pitches simply set it up.
"I thought early on he was as good as we've seen all year," Leyland said.
Scherzer had a lead to protect after the second inning thanks to Jose Iglesias' RBI double deep into the gap, which easily scored Omar Infante from third. A potential second run was left between third and home when Stephen Drew easily threw out Brayan Pena at the plate.
It was an aggressive call from third-base coach Tom Brookens to test Boston's defense, and it backfired.
"I'd have sent him, too," Leyland said. "I thought it was a great call. To me, when the ball gets by the outfielder, make them make two good relays. You know he's dead by 10 to 15 feet if they make them. If they didn't, we'd have scored a run on that play. With two outs, I have absolutely no problem with that call."
Brookens appreciated the sentiment, but said in hindsight that he was too aggressive.
"It's on me," Brookens said. "I didn't make a very good call on that one, quite honestly, no two ways about it."
The way the Tigers were hitting Lester early, with four hits the first time through the order -- two of them off the Green Monster -- it looked like a brief reprieve for Lester, 1-2 with a 5.26 ERA against Detroit in six previous meetings. Once he struck out the top of the Tigers' lineup in order in the fourth, though, the pitching duel was on.
"He was totally different than the first time we faced him," Torii Hunter said. "He was stronger. He was the Jon Lester of old."
Lester induced a groundout from Cabrera to leave the bases loaded in the fifth, left runners on first and second in the sixth, and struck out nine over seven innings of one-run ball. He stranded a runner in scoring position in three of his seven innings.
In short, Lester (13-8) earned his win. But that doesn't mean Scherzer earned his loss.
Three of Boston's five hits off Scherzer came in that fateful fifth inning. And yet even the one extra-base hit seemed to be a stroke of fortune for him.
Scherzer (19-2) hung a changeup to Drew but seemingly had a lucky bounce when the liner to deep right-center cleared the fence on the bounce for a ground-rule double, forcing Jonny Gomes to stay at third base. It left runners at second and third and just one out, but with the eighth and ninth hitters due up.
David Ross was no match for Scherzer, who overpowered him on three fastballs to take away the chance for a sacrifice fly. Scherzer then caught his breath and readied for Middlebrooks.
Not only was Middlebrooks hitless in four chances against Scherzer, he hadn't put a ball in play, striking out each time.
"In that situation you realize there's two outs, all you need is one more," Scherzer said. "I know Middlebrooks. I'm thinking about how he's going to approach me in that situation, what pitch I need to execute.
"Pena put down slider and I believed that was the right pitch, because I could see the sequence beyond that, not just the slider first-pitch. I believed in it. I just didn't execute it. It's as simple as that. It just caught too much of the middle of the plate."
It was also just the pitch Middlebrooks was looking to find. He was thinking about Scherzer as much as Scherzer was thinking about him.
"You find out how a guy's going to come after you," Middlebrooks said. "He likes to get ahead of me with off-speed because he knows I'm looking for a heater. I just changed my approach a little bit, and with the situation, guys in scoring position, I figured he'd flip up a slider."
That was that. One big hit from the Tigers, one closer play at the plate, and Scherzer could have had a bigger escape from Fenway than Ben Affleck's character did in "The Town." It wasn't scripted that way.