Endurance Scherzer's only issue in Game 4
Right-hander regains form following bout with shoulder soreness
OAKLAND -- That's the Max Scherzer that led the American League in strikeouts for most of the summer and loomed as a second Tigers ace for teams to face in October.He wasn't that way for as long as he would've liked, but that was an endurance question, not an arm question. His stuff, two weeks after shoulder soreness put his season in doubt, was as close to midseason form as he has been since missing his start down the stretch.
With a fastball he could crank up to 96 and a slider that A's batters just couldn't hit, Scherzer rolled off 12 consecutive outs, including four swinging strikeouts in a five-batter span between the first and third innings.
After Prince Fielder's mammoth home run built a 2-0 lead, Scherzer responded with a five-pitch shutdown inning. As big as it was to light up the radar gun, to quiet the Oakland crowd might have been a bigger feat, even it was temporary.
"His velocity was up in the last start he had in KC," Avila said. "Obviously, his slider's been tremendous this year. So has his changeup. The thing he didn't have in his last start, just because he hadn't pitched in a while, was the location on his fastball. When he could really spot up with his fastball today, he was setting everything else up."
His command began to waver in the fifth, but his deceptiveness remained, getting Josh Reddick to swing and miss at a slider for the second time and spotting a slider on the edge to Josh Donaldson with a full count.
Scherzer was a pitch away from striking out the side and cruising into the sixth, having put Seth Smith in an 0-2 hole. But he couldn't get Smith to offer at a fastball off the plate, running the count full, then missed again for a walk.
Another 0-2 count to Derek Norris got away from him with a bloop single to right, putting Scherzer in his first serious test. Again, Scherzer got an 0-2 count, this time finishing off Cliff Pennington with a nasty offspeed pitch down and in.
The extra pitches Scherzer had to throw, though, cost him going into the sixth.
"I was able to finish the fifth, but I could feel I was starting to get tired," Scherzer said. "I used some bullets there in the fifth inning to be able to get out of that jam, and when you're in a playoff atmosphere, you're putting so much on every single pitch. You prepare for it as much as you can, but the reality is I haven't pitched as much as I'd like. I just didn't have the same oomph in the sixth inning as I did in say the second or third."
He still should have had a leadoff out, having gotten a ground ball to first base from Coco Crisp. Fielder's error handling it put Crisp on second. Once Drew doubled him in, that was it.
"I think he wanted to face [Yoenis] Cespedes," manager Jim Leyland said, "but at this point I could see that his velocity was dropping. I didn't want him to make a mistake and have Cespedes hurt us. That's why we made the move. Max wanted Cespedes, but he was pretty much spent."
Scherzer didn't argue.
"I wanted to face one last hitter, but I understood where he was coming from," Scherzer said. "He wanted the matchup. That's his decision and I don't disagree."