Max Scherzer is getting as good at deflecting attention from his accomplishments as he is at shutting down opposing hitters.
The Detroit right-hander became the first pitcher to win 12 consecutive decisions to begin a season in 27 years on Friday night, riding a pair of home runs by Miguel Cabrera and a mammoth shot by Prince Fielder to beat the Tampa Bay Rays 6-3 and take over the major league lead in victories.
"It’s really nice to be 12-0," said Scherzer, who allowed three runs, four hits, walked one and struck out nine in seven innings to become the first pitcher in Tigers history to win his first 12 decisions.
"I’m pitching well, but the reason I’m 12-0 is because of my offense," he added. "You got to see firsthand today the best player in the game hitting two home runs on three pitches and going 4 for 4. And Prince hits a bomb. It’s the offense that set me up."
Scherzer became the first in the majors to begin a season with at least 12 straight victories since Roger Clemens did it on the way to starting 14-0 with the Boston Red Sox in 1986. He’s 2-0 with a 2.57 ERA and 18 strikeouts in two wins over Tampa Bay this season.
"He’s just good. He’s got a little of that whiffle ball look from the side, where the ball is jumping all over the place," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "Then he gets the velocity when he wants it. There’s a reason why he’s 12-0. He’s very good."
It helps to have Cabrera in the middle of the lineup.
The 2012 AL MVP went 4 for 4 and drove in three runs, boosting his major league-leading batting average to .377 with 24 homers and 81 RBIs, also tops in the big leagues. He hit a two-run homer in the first inning off Alex Colome (1-1) to extend his hitting streak to a season-best 13 games, then added a solo shot off the rookie for a 3-0 lead in the fourth.
Cabrera also singled in the sixth, giving him three of Detroit’s four hits off Colome. Fielder doubled in the fourth, tagged up and hustled to third base on Victor Martinez’s fly ball to right and eventually scored on a wild pitch to make it 4-0 before the Rays gradually climbed back into the game.
Ben Zobrist and Wil Myers hit solo homers for Tampa Bay. Luke Scott’s RBI double trimmed Scherzer’s lead to 4-3 in the seventh.
"All I thought about is winning today. My personal record is more a reflection of the team," Scherzer said. "I don’t get caught up in the win-loss record because it’s kind of fluky. Yesterday Doug (Fister) goes seven innings, one run and gets a no-decision. I got six and (allow) three and get a win, so that’s why it’s a fluky stat."
Cabrera doubled off Kyle Farnsworth in the eighth for his fourth hit. Fielder gave the Detroit bullpen some breathing room when he followed with his first homer since June 4, a towering two-run shot off Cesar Ramos that struck one of the catwalks that support the roof at Tropicana Field.
The Rays estimated Cabrera’s home runs traveled 388 and 432 feet. Fielder’s drive, which bounced off the catwalk and rolled back toward the infield, was estimated at 414 feet.
Cabrera, who leads the majors in hits and RBIs and is second behind Baltimore’s Chris Davis in home runs, was asked how far Fielder’s homer might have gone if it hadn’t hit something.
"Miami," Cabrera said. "It was very far. It was impressive."
Al Alburquerque and Drew Smyly worked a scoreless eighth for the Tigers. Joaquin Benoit finished a combined five-hitter, earning his fifth save.
Scherzer, who’s fanned at least six in each of his 16 starts this season, retired 11 in a row before Zobrist’s first-pitch drive to right with two outs in the fourth. The closest the Rays had come to getting a hit up until then was Evan Longoria’s second-inning grounder over the mound that Omar Infante ran down behind second base before making an off-balance throw to first for the out.
Longoria was removed from the game following that inning. The Rays later announced he irritated plantar fasciitis in his right foot, which has bothered him for the past month.
Maddon said Longoria, who has 17 homers and 47 RBIs, will not play Saturday and is doubtful for Sunday.
"A little bit tender in the foot area. We have to wait for it to calm down (Saturday) to make a better evaluation," the Tampa Bay manager said. "Of course I’m concerned, but I don’t know the level yet until I get more information."
Notes: Reigning AL Cy Young winner David Price will rejoin Tampa Bay’s rotation Tuesday night at Houston. The left-hander went on the disabled list for the first time in his career May 16 with a strained left triceps. He made two minor league rehab starts with Class A Charlotte and said he felt good after a bullpen session Friday. The Rays have gone 21-20 while he’s been on the DL. … The Tigers recalled reliever Bruce Rondon from Triple-A Toledo. To make room on the roster, reliever Evan Reed was optioned to Toledo. Detroit manager Jim Leyland said Rondon was not "brought back as a closer." Instead, Benoit will get most save opportunities. … Rays RHP Alex Cobb, who was struck in the right ear by a ball hit by Kansas City’s Eric Hosmer on June 15, played catch during batting practice. … Tigers RHP Anibal Sanchez (right shoulder strain) will make a 60-pitch rehab start Monday, probably for Class A Lakeland . . . Leyland plans to rest RF Torii Hunter on Saturday night … Leyland, who will manage the AL All-Star team, said he will not use any pitcher who starts a game on the preceding Sunday.