"I thought this was the best win of the year," Scherzer said after Victor Martinez's go-ahead double in the 10th inning sent Detroit home with a 4-2 victory on Monday. "I thought we battled, everybody battled. It was a great game to be a part of."
While Scherzer picked up a no-decision to stay unbeaten after throwing seven innings of two-run ball, the Tigers picked up their sixth win in seven games, and their third in this four-game series, with a rain-soaked marathon.
They go home with a 3 1/2-game lead over the Indians in the American League Central, one game larger than the lead they had going into their 11-game, three-city road trip. They went 7-4 on the trek to even their road record for the season at 23-23.
A trip that seemed headed for disaster in St. Petersburg after two close, low-scoring losses to the Rays and then controversy in Toronto with Rick Porcello's suspension, Miguel Cabrera's sore back and Colby Rasmus' takeout slide on Omar Infante ended as a potentially defining trip for this team.
"I think it was a great, great road trip for us," Cabrera said.
For all the talk about the relevance of a pitcher's record, Scherzer gets it. He has used the word fluky to describe his unbeaten start so often that it has become a cliché. He doesn't apologize for the wins, but he makes the point that there are far better ways to measure how he's pitching.
On a night when the Major League leader in run support -- he averaged 7.87 runs of support per nine innings entering the night -- took a no-decision in a low-scoring duel, he had his example why.
"Exactly!" Scherzer exclaimed at the mention, then laughed. "I'm more happy about this team winning than any -- maybe some -- of the other wins I've had. I care about how this team plays. For us to battle the way we did tonight, I'm most of proud of this win."
Scherzer remains at 13-0, though he still made history. His streak of 19 consecutive starts without a loss, dating back to last September, is a franchise record, passing Bobo Newsom's record from 1940. His streak of 18 consecutive starts without a loss to begin the season, already a team record, is tied with Brooks Lawrence in 1956 for the fourth-longest in the Majors since 1916.
One of the other three was the aforementioned Allen, a Cleveland Indian who came within a game of a perfect season in 1937. He went into his final start at Detroit with a 15-0 record over 19 starts but lost a 1-0 decision to the Tigers. Hall of Famer Hank Greenberg singled in that game's only run in the first inning.
For Scherzer to pick up his first loss in Cleveland would have seemed fitting for some Tribe fans and historians. The Indians came close.
Scherzer's night seemed in danger as early as the second inning, not from Indians hitters so much as the weather. Scherzer was working through a driving rain with two on and two outs against Lonnie Chisenhall when he stepped off the mound and circled as he said something to crew chief Joe West at second base. West called for the tarp, putting the game -- and Scherzer's outing -- on hold.
"I said, 'Joe, come on, let me get him,'" Scherzer said. "I said, 'I feel good right now, let me get him. You don't need to call it. The rain's not bugging me.' He said, 'No, I can't do that. We can't have anybody get hurt.'"
Any delay longer than an hour likely would have ended Scherzer's night, but the delay lasted just 20 minutes. Scherzer seemed ready to take the mound again in about half that but had to wait for the grounds crew. Finally, he made his 2-2 pitch to Chisenhall, who promptly lined it into right field for a two-run single and a one-run Tribe lead.
"I wanted a changeup in the dirt," Scherzer said, "and unfortunately, it was just high enough for him to be able to get the barrel to it."
Four scoreless innings later, Scherzer was having another conversation to try to keep his outing going. This one was with manager Jim Leyland and pitching coach Jeff Jones after he entered the dugout at the end of the sixth inning, his pitch count at 101.
"I wanted to check with him," Leyland said. "He said, 'I'm all right, I can start [the seventh inning] for sure.' And I just wanted to make sure he knew that if this inning got lingering, there was a point where I was going to have to take him out during the inning, regardless of what was going on."
That point was around 120 pitches. Michael Bourn's leadoff single had Leyland readying to have to make that walk. But after a rundown at second base erased Bourn, Scherzer ended his night with back-to-back strikeouts of Asdrubal Cabrera and Jason Kipnis, the latter swinging at a 97-mph fastball on Scherzer's 117th and final pitch.
That extended another streak for Scherzer, who has recorded at least six strikeouts in all 18 of his starts this season. It's the longest such streak to begin a season by somebody not named Pedro Martinez or Randy Johnson. The only one longer in American League history is Martinez's 29-start streak in 2000.
"You've got to give a lot of credit to Scherzer," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "We threatened a lot, and he has a lot of ways of either reaching back or taking something off. That's why his record is what it is."
The ensuing battle of the bullpens came down to Martinez making Matt Albers (2-1) pay for back-to-back two-out walks to Cabrera and Prince Fielder. Martinez's drive sent Bourn to the fence in center field, but the ball hit off the padding and then Bourn's knee, and Cabrera and Fielder kept running.
Drew Smyly (4-0) picked up the win after stranding the potential winning run on second base in the ninth. AL All-Star Final Vote candidate Joaquin Benoit worked the 10th for his seventh save in as many chances.