Tigers roll to 12th straight win to take series sweep
Scherzer improves to 17-1 as Detroit builds division lead to seven
CLEVELAND -- Max Scherzer has spent most of the season looking unbeatable. Now the entire Tigers team has joined in.
Scherzer's roll has put him into the history books. Where this 12-game winning streak puts the Tigers depends on who you ask.
"Sometimes you just have one of those fairytale series," manager Jim Leyland said after Thursday's 10-3 win completed the Tigers' first four-game sweep of the Indians in Cleveland in 25 years.
The series that the Indians hoped would be their catapult back into this race instead gave the Tigers their getaway. Thursday's finale was the exclamation point, fueled by a six-run third inning and Scherzer's seven strong innings to hold it.
Scherzer became baseball's first 17-game winner this year, and the first Tigers pitcher ever to go 17-1. No Major League pitcher has been 17-1 since then-Yankee Roger Clemens in 2001. Just two other big-league pitchers, Pittsburgh's Roy Face in 1959 and Don Newcombe, have done it since Rube Marquard's historic 19-0 start in 1912. Face finished his season at 18-1, and he is the only pitcher since 1901 to finish with at least 17 wins and only one loss.
Listen to Scherzer, though, and it's not his mark to claim.
"It's not so much my achievement. It's a team achievement," he said. "If I'm going to sit here and take credit for these wins and say I'm the reason why we're winning, I'd be pretty naive.
"I definitely help the ballclub. I'm obviously doing things right. I'm pitching deep into games. I'm minimizing walks, doing everything I want to do. But at the same time, most of these games I'm pitching, I'm getting a ton of run support. These guys are putting quality at-bats together and our lineup is so deep. It's really a team effort every time I pitch that the guys are able to score runs and I'm able to minimize damage, and that's how we seem to get a win every time."
It's the same team emphasis the rest of the Tigers clubhouse seems to be taking. Judging by the results, it's not just the outlook that's contagious.
The dozen consecutive wins match their winning streak from September 2011 that helped them run away with their first American League Central title. The seven-game lead Detroit now owns in the division is its largest since 2011, too.
The Tigers know better than to assume this race is over. They still have enough coaches and players who remember the seven-game lead they owned on Labor Day in 2009 that vanished to the Twins four weeks later.
"There's a lot of baseball left," Leyland warned. "We had a very good series against a very good team. I know what I know, and I know that they're not going anywhere. We're going to New York to try to win a game tomorrow night."
The hordes of Tigers fans that made the trip to Cleveland to see this series, though, left with every reason to believe. This is the team they wanted to see, and they let the home crowd know when they saw it.
The Tigers broke Cleveland's hearts on back-to-back nights with late-inning comebacks. On Thursday, they took care of the rest.
"We came out here and played probably as good of a four-game series as we played all year," Scherzer said. "Everybody played their best -- all the starters, relievers, everybody did their job. And when we're able to execute as a team, when we play well as a team, we can do great things. Obviously that's why we think we're one of the best teams in the American League."
If the math in the standings isn't decisive enough, the play in the field this week was. Thursday was the culmination.
Midway through the fourth inning, Alex Avila -- who later left in the fifth inning with possible concussion symptoms -- was the only player in the Tigers lineup who hadn't reached base safely. No Indians hitter at that point had reached base safely on Scherzer, who had retired Cleveland's lineup in order.
By the end of the fifth inning, after Miguel Cabrera jogged to first base on a two-out single and Hernan Perez sped around from first and beat the throw in from left field, Detroit had reached double digits.
By game's end, former Tigers utilityman Ryan Raburn was on the mound pitching against Matt Tuiasosopo, the man who took Raburn's old lefty-killer role on the Tigers bench. The ensuing strikeout brought the loudest cheer from the Progressive Field crowd all evening.
Most of the Tigers' damage came against Zach McAllister, who delivered a quality start in Detroit in May. He retired the side in order in each of the first two innings, then retired only one of the eight batters he faced in the third. Four reached by walk, three reached by hit, including back-to-back two-run doubles by Prince Fielder -- his third opposite-field double in as many at-bats -- and Victor Martinez
McAllister (4-7) entered the game with a 2.28 ERA in four career starts against the Tigers, lowest of any of his opponents. He gave up as many walks as hits on his way to six runs over 2 1/3 innings.
"I felt great physically," McAllister said. "I felt strong out there. Like I said, I just had terrible command that inning, and that's what cost me the most."
The third inning was long enough that Scherzer threw in the tunnel to keep his arm loose. Those waits used to be his undoing early in the season. Now, he simply cruises. Considering he leads the Majors in run support, he has had plenty of practice at it.
For Scherzer, his 1,000th career strikeout -- a swing and miss from Jason Kipnis on a nasty slider to end the first inning -- was bigger than the 17-1 record.
"Right now I'm getting all the run support," Scherzer said. "I am pitching well, but we're just on a roll as a team. For the thousand K's, that means more. That takes pitching effectively for many years. … And so to get it within basically five-plus years, to me that means a lot."
No pitcher since Face has finished a season with that many wins against only one defeat. Considering Scherzer has at least 11 starts left, it would take a 15-game unbeaten streak to do it. His season-opening roll lasted 18 starts.
His challenges aren't over yet this season, and neither are those of his team. Both, however, are in position for something special.