Scherzer outduels Lester as Tigers blank Red Sox
In ALCS rematch, '13 Cy Young winner dominant before 'pen seals win
BOSTON -- This time, there was no dramatic home run to be found for the Red Sox.
The way Max Scherzer mixed and matched his pitches Friday night, his toughest opponent was going to be a downpour on Fenway Park. And he even outlasted that. Once Detroit's bullpen held on after his six-plus scoreless innings, the Tigers had the 1-0 shutout over the Red Sox they needed last October.
It came about seven months too late to help the Tigers' World Series hopes in 2013. It was right on time to keep the Tigers' 2014 season -- and Scherzer's American League Cy Young Award sequel season -- rolling.
"We played those guys in the [AL Championship Series] last year," Red Sox starter Jon Lester said, "and nobody talked about us and we beat them. And now they're trying to right the ship over there and do what they were supposed to do to us last year. I look at it that way."
They can't get to the World Series in the middle of May. They can make their path in that direction easier. The fist pump Scherzer gave out on his way off the mound in the sixth, having caught Mike Napoli looking at a changeup for a called third strike to end another Red Sox threat, suggested this win was pretty important.
Scherzer didn't want to overinflate the importance afterwards. But it wasn't just another regular-season win, either. It was their first 1-0 win against any team since they opened the ALCS here with one last October. It was their first such win in a regular-season game at Fenway since 1976.
"It's a great one, especially against a team like that," he said. "I didn't pitch my best, but when runners were on base and I needed big pitches, I made big pitches. That's the difference in the game."
It's also a microcosm of teams heading in two different directions in the followup season. While the Red Sox fell under .500 with the loss, the Tigers picked up their ninth straight road win and their fourth consecutive win overall. They own the best record in the Majors at 25-12, and they're 12-4 away from Comerica Park.
Not since the Tigers' record 35-5 mark in 1984 have they started out this hot.
"If you go out there -- I don't care if you're at home or on the road -- and play good baseball, then you can win games," Scherzer said. "If we get good pitching, the way we have been, with this offense, we can beat anybody in anybody's place."
This wasn't just any place. Fenway Park was where their World Series hopes ended last fall, not just for a season, but for a manager. This was where losing set changes in motion. And yet in the first game of their rematch, they ended up in a familiar spot.
Scherzer (6-1) has been at the heart of that good pitching, and not just for wins in six consecutive starts. He has allowed six runs on 25 hits over 39 innings in his last seven starts, striking out 48 in that stretch. Friday might have seen some of his best pitching of the stretch.
"This is might have been the best his stuff has been all year, really," manager Brad Ausmus said.
He needed it.
Though Torii Hunter, whose tumble into the Boston bullpen while trying to rob David Ortiz of a grand slam became the snapshot of last postseason, put the Tigers in front in the opening inning by singling home Ian Kinsler, Detroit had its chance for more. When Lester struck out Alex Avila to strand the bases, it had the feeling of a missed opportunity destined to haunt them later.
"You definitely want to get more," Ausmus said. "I mean, I wish we would've scored 10 runs in the first inning. But Jon Lester's a pretty darn good pitcher. Good pitchers have a knack for getting out of jams, and that's what he did."
Instead of haunting them, it simply stressed them for the rest of the evening. It loomed as Scherzer waited for the rains to subside in the top of the fourth, having plowed through the Red Sox order with no hits, a walk and five strikeouts to that point.
He had waited through a 53-minute delay two years ago and came back fresh. He could wait through 47 minutes this time.
"My arm was feeling good, I had a good sweat, and I hadn't thrown a taxing pitch yet," Scherzer said.
That lone run loomed after the delay, once Ortiz belted a changeup to the fence in right-center for Boston's first hit with two outs in the fourth, then advanced to scoring position on Napoli's four-pitch walk. Scherzer still had his stuff, but not the control he wanted. He had enough to send down Mike Carp on three different pitches -- changeup fouled off for strike zone, fastball in the zone for strike two, then a curveball in the dirt that Carp swung at for strike three.
The next time Ortiz came up in the sixth, that 1-0 gap was still there. And as Scherzer regrouped from one of his biggest pitches of the night, ending an eight-pitch battle with Grady Sizemore with a double play, that thin margin led Ausmus to call for the walk to Ortiz with the tying run on third, putting the go-ahead run on for Napoli.
"Papi's had good success against Scherzer, and he's extremely hot right now," Ausmus said.
Napoli, by contrast, was 1-for-16 off Scherzer. And while Scherzer didn't have his best changeup, he had enough of it to fan Napoli.
"In that situation, I'd shown him fastball-slider all night," Scherzer said. "I felt that I could excute the changeup right here, this was the pitch."
Scherzer allowed three hits with four walks and seven strikeouts before Carp's leadoff single in the seventh chased him. With a one-run lead, Ausmus trusted his bullpen.
This time, the bullpen held. Lefty Ian Krol, who wasn't part of last year's relief corps, came on against pinch-hitter A.J. Pierzynski with two on and escaped with a double play. Joba Chamberlain tossed a perfect eighth with Ortiz looming on deck if a runner got on.
Joe Nathan, signed in the wake of last year's bullpen struggles, worked the ninth for his 11th save. He had to get Ortiz as his first hitter to do it.
"I think that's the first time ever I threw a changeup in a one-run game," Nathan said. "Eventually, I got him on a backdoor curveball."