DETROIT — Two very odd things happened Wednesday afternoon at Comerica Park.
Detroit Tigers starter Max Scherzer, who nearly led the American League in run support last season, threw eight shutout innings and didn’t figure in the decision in a 2-1 win over the Kansas City Royals that took 10 innings.
And Tigers closer Joe Nathan, who had converted all 36 save opportunities against Detroit, blew his first save situation for his new team.
However, both pitchers were smiling after Detroit picked up its second consecutive walk-off win to start the season.
Scherzer, who wasn’t in any trouble except for the first and eighth innings, allowed four hits and one walk while striking out seven. However, he was very erratic in starting the game with 3-0 counts to two of the first four batters.
When asked what adjustments Scherzer made before the second inning, Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said, "He went from a long-sleeve T-shirt to a short-sleeve T-shirt."
That did it?
"Yeah," said Ausmus, smiling.
Scherzer said, "I didn’t like having sleeves. But the bigger thing was what was going on between my ears. I needed to be aggressive and attack the hitters."
He said he went into the clubhouse after the first inning and "kicked a few things around … kicked the laundry bin."
Scherzer might have done more damage had he not gotten cleanup hitter Billy Butler to ground into an inning-ending double play on a 3-0 count fastball.
"I was fortunate enough to get him to roll over and get a double play," said Scherzer, also thankful that his pitch count didn’t get run up that inning.
That allowed him to pitch into and through the eighth inning. Royals catcher Salvador Perez, who has five hits in two games against Detroit, doubled leading off that inning. Al Alburquerque and then Phil Coke warmed up, but Scherzer struck out both Mike Moustakas and Lorenzo Cain. Then Ausmus, after visiting the mound, allowed Scherzer to face Alcides Escobar with two outs. Escobar flew out to right field to end the threat.
Scherzer left the game having thrown 110 pitches — which Ausmus said was in the targeted range — and a 1-0 lead.
Nathan, who got the win with a scoreless ninth inning on Monday, got a quick out in the bottom of the ninth. But then former Tiger Omar Infante singled up the middle and both Eric Hosmer and Butler walked to load the bases.
Alex Gordon drilled a fly ball to left field that easily scored pinch-runner Pedro Ciriaco to tie the game. Nathan balked, sending runners to second and third. Nathan said that when Avila set up differently than he expected, he made a split-second decision to "eat the pitch" rather than cross up Avila and likely start behind in the count with a ball.
"I knew right away I messed up," said Nathan.
But he got backup catcher Brett Hayes — in the game because Royals manager Ned Yost inserted a pinch-runner for the hot-hitting Perez in the eighth inning — to ground out to second baseman Ian Kinsler.
Kinsler’s homer gave Scherzer the lead, and his single in the 10th made Alburquerque the winning pitcher after he pitched a scoreless top half of the inning.
"It makes me certainly feel a lot better when we win after blowing a save," said Nathan. "It’s the most nerve-wracking time when that happens, and I was hoping we could come away with the win after that."
Nathan showed the poise of a veteran with 341 career saves and a 90-percent conversion success rate. He said he focused on not giving up the go-ahead run after giving up the lead, and turned the page as quickly as possible.
"I don’t have to go out to settle him down," Avila said.
Ausmus experienced no doubt about his closer.
"If the game is a one-run game," Ausmus said, "I have no problem coming back tomorrow with Joe Nathan. He’s our closer."
And so even though the Tigers saw Nathan do something they had not witnessed before from him — a blown save — they won despite not getting the usual half dozen runs for Scherzer.
Scherzer received 5.6 runs per start in going 21-3 with a 2.90 ERA and running away with the 2013 Cy Young Award. He pitched so well that Detroit won many of his starts in a breeze. Only Boston Red Sox starters Ryan Dempster (6.1) and Felix Doubront (5.7) had more runs per start in the league last season.
"I’m going to have to have a discussion with Wally (Joyner)," said Scherzer, mentioning the Tigers’ new hitting coach. "He doesn’t know I lead the league in run support."