Max Scherzer had become a Jekyll & Hyde character for the Tigers this season. While his overall numbers ended solid (15-9, 4.43 ERA, 174 K: 56 BB), you never knew which Max you were going to get.
In ten of his starts this season, Scherzer allowed five runs or more. On the other hand, in 20 other starts, he allowed two runs or less. Only three starts fell in the three-four runs allowed range, you know, the range in which you’d typically expect your middle of the rotation starter to land, frequently. The numbers seemed pretty simple; the Tigers had a two out of three chance that Scherzer would turn in another gem for the club. However, confidence from the fanbase probably wasn’t that high.
Yet with the attention on, Scherzer delivered. His first 5 1/3 innings, he didn’t allow a hit, tying Jeremy Bonderman for the longest amount of time to keep the Yankees without a hit to start a game in a postseason match.
Scherzer would make it six-plus innings, not allowing a run (with a hat tip to Joaquin Benoit, who inherited two Scherzer runners in the seventh with nobody out, but promptly retired the next three batters to keep the shutout intact for the moment). He struck out five and walked four. His fastball was on almost all day, averaging 94 MPH (a full mile faster than his season average), and dialing it all the way up to 98 on a couple occasions.
Scherzer’s outstanding start kept the Yankees at bay, while Miguel Cabrera ensured there were runs on the board. Cabrera, as an MVP candidate arguably should, took matters into his own hands after a quiet game one, starting the game off with a two run home run to right, giving the Tigers a quick early lead they wouldn’t relinquish. Cabrera would later add an RBI single, finishing the day 3-for-4 with three runs driven in.
With a four run lead heading into the ninth with the score at 5-1, and not a save situation, the Tigers regardless went to their reliable closer, Jose Valverde. Papa Grande was a perfect 49-for-49 in save opportunities this season, with a dominating 0.55 ERA and 50 strikeouts over 49 innings.
Unfortunately, in non-save situations, that ERA ballooned to 5.79, and much like that might imply, despite the importance of the situation, Valverde was shaky. He needed 34 pitches to close out the inning, gave up a pair of runs, a pair of hits, a pair of walks. But he also got three outs.
And so, much like in 2006, the Tigers return home after splitting with the Yankees in New York. Unlike 2006 though, the Tigers have their ace on the mound in game three in Justin Verlander, and game four, originally thought to be a match-up disadvantage, now might swing the Tigers way, as A.J. Burnett takes the slot vacated by CC Sabathia after game 1’s suspended game caused the rotation re-shuffling.
Things have set up well for the Tigers – stealing a win in New York thanks to Scherzer and Cabrera, returning home to what is certain to be a fired up crowd at Comerica Park, and the ace on the mound. Momentum is now squarely on the Tigers side, now, they just need to keep it there.