That’s all that stands between the Red Sox and the franchise’s 12th trip to the World Series. We now know that the Cardinals, behind another stellar pitching performance from rookie Michael Wacha, punched their ticket to the Fall Classic as 9–0 winners over the Dodgers last night at home, and now await the winner of a tightly contested and very entertaining ALCS.
On the mound for the hometown team on Saturday night will be Clay Buchholz, who based on his lights-out regular season campaign is exactly the man you would’ve chosen to take the ball for a playoff series clincher had you been asked prior to his 5 ⅔ inning, five-run disappointment in Game 2. However the Sox offense made up for his subpar outing winning in heroic fashion on David Ortiz’s dramatic and historic grand slam
(coincidenatlly, it's Papi’s only extra-base hit—and one of his two hits overall—in the series thus far).
Facing Buchholz again, this time with Detroit’s playoff life in the balance, is Max Scherzer, the majors’ only 20-game winner (21) this season and the same man that gave up a mere one earned run and four baserunners in seven strong innings last Sunday. Based on his regular season, you’d think that Scherzer is the pitcher everyone in Detroit would want on the hill facing elimination. That sentiment should be magnified given that he also pitched great in Game 2 before being pulled with a 5-1 lead having thrown 108 pitches, and needing just six outs from his bullpen. Unfortunately for him, five relievers managed just three outs in under two frames interlaced with the runners for Big Papi’s power play and punctuated with Jarrod Saltlamacchia’s walk-off single.
However given his history with the Tigers on the brink, perhaps Scherzer is who Red Sox Nation wants out there too.
In each of the past two seasons Scherzer has been the starting pitcher in the game that sent the Tigers home for the winter. In 2011, he was overwhelmed by the Rangers to the tune of six earned runs in just 2 ⅓ innings of a 15–5 Texas rout in the deciding Game 6 of the ALCS. Last year with Detroit’s Sunday softball-caliber offense overmatched by Giants pitching in Games 1 through 3 of the World Series, Scherzer surrendered three earned runs over 6 ⅓ innings which wasn’t good enough to prevent the Giants from completing the sweep.
He also failed to clinch the 2012 ALDS for the Tigers in a start against the A’s in Oakland, losing Game 4, thus setting the stage for Justin Verlander’s complete-game shutout in the win-or-go-home Game 5.
Scherzer hasn’t been that great in pressure relief efforts either. He came in for Doug Fister in the deciding Game 5 of the 2011 ALDS and yielded a harmless single to Jorge Posada in his first inning of work. However he was pulled after 1 ⅓ innings after letting Derek Jeter reach base with one out in the bottom of the seventh. Joaquin Benoit would load the bases before walking in Jeter with the earned run, charged to Scherzer, that put New York within one of Detroit. But that was all the Yankees could muster and the Tigers advanced.
Then there’s the latest game in which the pressure of the entire season was on Scherzer’s shoulders. Ten days ago the Tigers were on the brink of elimination in Oakland’s O.co Coliseum and Fister was pulled after five innings of a 3-3 tie. Scherzer came in and promptly surrendered the lead on a Stephen Vogt single, a sacrifice bunt by Eric Sogard and an RBI single by Coco Crisp. Score: 4-3 A’s. Luckily for him Oakland's Sean Doolittle was just a little worse, unable to hold the lead in the bottom of the sixth, on a leadoff home run by Victor Martinez, followed up by a double to Jhonny Peralta. A few batters later Austin Jackson singled in Peralta with the go-ahead run, making Scherzer the pitcher of record on the positive side.
Drama ensued in the seventh when Scherzer loaded the bases with no outs on two walks sandwiched around a Yoenis Cespedes double. But this time, given the opportunity to wiggle out of the jam himself by manager Jim Leyland, he miraculously escaped unscathed and unscored upon, blowing away both Josh Reddick and Vogt on swinging strikeouts before getting pinch-hitter Alberto Callaspo to line out to Jackson in center on a 3-2 pitch. For his efforts, shaky as they were, Scherzer was awarded the win.
With the Red Sox ahead by a game and with the Fenway faithful in full support, Buchholz has some breathing room tonight. On the road and on the precipice of elimination, Scherzer doesn’t. If history is any indication, that level of security could be enough to send the Red Sox onto the next series. With Justin Verlander waiting in the wings for Game 7, the bearded ones better hope it is.
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He has also authored or made contributions to many books, including the Sports Illustrateds 100 Fenway: A Fascinating First Century.
Now living in Marblehead, hes focusing his attention on the Boston sports scene, specifically delving into the numbers affecting the Red Sox, Patriots, Celtics and Bruins, with the goal of informing and entertaining real fans. You can follow him on Twitter at @SabinoSports.