DETROIT — Thursday, the Tigers and their fans were back on the same page.
On a perfect afternoon for baseball, Max Scherzer made everyone forget about the team’s offensive woes, the struggles in the bullpen and the fact that 40 percent of the best starting rotation in baseball is currently injured.
Scherzer thrilled his teammates and the sold-out crown of 41,986 with a dominant perfomance that added another line to his resume for a second straight American League Cy Young award. He allowed three hits in eight shutout innings, striking out a season-high 14 batters and making a decent Pittsburgh offense look helpless.
"He pitched like a Cy Young Award winner," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "The volume of pitches that he can throw and command is impressive. I think there are 29 more teams in baseball that would be happy to have that guy at the top of their rotation."
Scherzer has been brilliant for the last six weeks, but just to make things more miserable for opposing hitters, he’s added a new weapon to his arsenal.
"He’s always had a really good curveball that he could locate on the outside corner to lefties, but now he has been working on a harder curve that he can throw inside," Brad Ausmus said. "When he’s got that going, it makes him even better."
That’s hard to imagine, but whatever he’s doing, it is working. After Thursday’s masterpiece, Scherzer is 6-1 in his last 10 starts, dating back to June 22. Scherzer’s correct in that win-loss record for a pitcher can be very misleading, so how about this? In those 10 starts, he’s pitched 70 2/3 innings with a 1.78 ERA and 85 strikeouts as opposed to only 52 hits.
"I had everything working today," he said. "I was able throw everything to both sides of the plate, and I could put my curve down and in, which makes me a lot more effective. Right now, I’ve got things going really well."
As well as Scherzer pitched, the Tigers were still having trouble putting up runs. When he left to a standing ovation at the end of the top of the eighth, Detroit only led 2-0. J.D. Martinez had driven in both runs, one on a fifth-inning homer and the second on a bases-loaded walk in the sixth.
That meant Ausmus was going to have to consider putting Joe Nathan into the game for the ninth, 18 hours after he had infuriated Detroit fans with a rude gesture after being booed Wednesday night. Nathan apologized before Thursday’s game, but it would have been a tense situation.
"Joe knows that what he did was unacceptable, and he’s embarrassed by it," Ausmus said. "It’s going to be uncomfortable the first time he pitches here, but he’s going to have to pitch at some point, and it might be better to have it gotten over with as quickly as possible."
Ausmus, though, ended up not having to make the decision, because Nick Castellanos keyed an eighth-inning rally with a two-run single to give the Tigers a 5-0 lead. That meant Phil Coke came in to pitch the ninth, and although he got his share of boos after allowing a two-run homer to Gaby Sanchez, Joba Chamberlain was able to finish the game without further excitement.