From a distance, while Max Scherzer was in the middle of weaving together his 13-0 start to the regular season, he kept a close and competitive eye on Clay Buchholz, who was stringing together a strong start of his own, going 9-0 in his first 12 outings.
Injuries, of course, would eat into Buchholz’s season, forcing him to sit for nearly three months. Meanwhile Scherzer went on to put up the kind of breakout season (21-3, 240 strikeouts, 2.90 ERA) that has him at the front of the pack in the race for the AL Cy Young award.
They’ll face each other in Game 2 on Sunday and even though their seasons took different turns there’s a certain level of mutual respect.
“Obviously he was pitching absolutely lights out,” Scherzer said. “He’s able to do a lot of different things with all of his pitches. That’s what makes him so effective. It’s unfortunate that he did suffer an injury and it just took a long time for him to get back.
“I think he’s back and he’s going to bring his A stuff, so I’m going to have to match him.”
With every start, Scherzer became a big ball of momentum on the mound. Over Scherzer’s first 17 starts, he went 13-0 and the Tigers were 14-3 whenever he took the mound. In five of those starts, he notched at least 10 strikeouts. In seven of them, he only gave up one earned run.
“I think he’s one of those guys that it happens now and then, guys get on a roll,” Leyland said. “Whether it’s the guy shooting 3‑pointers or hot field goal kicker or whatever it is. In sports guys get on a roll from time to time. And he’s been a positive roll.”
For all the postseason hair-splitting about bullpens and managerial decisions and chess matches, Leyland looked at the arms the two teams will send to the mound and said that’s what will decided the series.
“I think this’ll be a starting pitching series,” he said. “If our starters aren’t good, we’re not going to win this series. And probably the same for them.”
• Even though the Wall tortured Tampa Bay Rays outfielder Sean Rodgriguez in the ALDS and Jhonny Peralta has all of six games of outfield experience to his name, Tigers manager Jim Leyland downplayed the impact the wall could have on the series.
“We’re not making too big a deal out of that,” Leyland said. “Everyone is making a big deal out of it,” he said. “Heard somebody talking about the ladder. Carl Yastrzemski who played the ladder, he was one hell of a man. When it hits that ladder, I don’t think any Red Sox, Tiger, Kansas City Royal or anyone else knows where it’s going.
“It is a little tricky to play the wall. And the Red Sox do that better because they’re used to it. As far as getting carried away, talking about the ladder, that’s ridiculous, nobody knows what it’s going to do when it hits that thing. Just do the best you can with it.”
• With six steals so far, the Red Sox are one stolen base shy of the team’s postseason record, and Scherzer already has baserunning on the brain.
Teams tended to run wild on the Tigers in the regular season, swiping 128 bases with an 82 percent success rate (the Sox weren’t better, giving up 133 steals as a staff).
But of all the Tigers pitchers, the two that made it the most difficult on runners were Doug Fister, who only allowed eight steals, and Scherzer, who allowed 14.
“That’s something I always pride myself in is trying to prevent the other team from stealing bases against me,” Scherzer said. “I know Boston does a very good job of that. That’s part of the reason why they’re able to create so many runs is because of their ability to their steal bases.
A team-high eight runners were caught trying to steal on Scherzer.
“For me it comes down to the simple fact, I’ve got to be able to change my timing,” he said. “I like to hold the ball. I feel like that really disrupts the base runners. You’ve got to be quick to the plate and you’ve got to change all different aspects of it. You can’t be repetitive, because they can just time you and figure you out. So that’s something I’m always cognizant of, especially when you play a team like this.”
• Scherzer turned his sweatshirt into a scoreboard, decorating it with the final score from Missouri’s 41-26. Scherzer, who was born in Missouri and drafted by the Cardinals in 2003 but passed on signing in order to go to the University of Missouri, said, “I’m definitely going to be talking loud today.”