Scherzer validates Tigers' choice to give him Game 1
Righty dominates A's for nearly all of seven-inning, 11-K outing in win
OAKLAND -- As well as Max Scherzer pitched in Game 1 of the American League Division Series on Friday, he probably didn't need any help. The Tigers' lineup gave it to him anyway, scoring three in the top of the first before he threw his first pitch of the night.
That turned out to be all he needed. Giving up just one hit through the first six innings, Scherzer ended up striking out 11 in seven innings as the Tigers took an early advantage in the best-of-five series with a 3-2 win at O.co Coliseum. Game 2 is here on Saturday night (9 ET on TBS).
Scherzer was undefeated this season when getting at least three runs, so there's that. It also helped quiet the largest Oakland baseball crowd in nearly a decade, at least for a while. But there was also a sense that, on this night, he would have been dominant no matter how the game played out.
"Certain times, certain situations, you might pitch to what the scoreboard is saying. But, for the most part, you're trying to execute the game plan no matter what the score is," catcher Alex Avila said.
Jim Leyland thought that getting the honor of starting the season opener might have given Scherzer a little extra boost.
"He was locked in all night," the Tigers' manager said. "He was awful determined. He was thrilled to get Game 1. I think it meant a lot to him, even though he said it didn't matter which game he pitched."
Afterward, Scherzer said, in so many words, that it didn't matter which game he pitched.
"It was the same as always. I don't get caught up in the hoopla, worry about where I'm pitching or if I'm pitching Game 1 or Game 5," he said.
No matter what the reason, he was sharp.
"That was vintage Max right there. A lot of strikeouts," Avila said. "He walked three guys, which he's probably ticked off about. But he pitched great. A real live fastball. And everything kind of worked off that.
"He did a very good job of [pitching to the game plan]. He did a good job of being able to make the adjustments he needed to when he started to get out of whack. It's a little tough when there are that many lefties. He does have a really good changeup that's something that those hitters will try to take away. So being able to throw the breaking ball in there a couple times was a key, and he was able to do that. But his fastball was just electric."
The first hit Scherzer gave up was a one-out triple to Yoenis Cespedes in the second. Leyland kept the infield back, in part because one run wouldn't have been the end of the world at that point. And partly because Scherzer has the kind of ability to pitch out of that situation. Sure enough, he struck out Josh Reddick, and Stephen Vogt lined out to end the inning.
"Our staff is built to strike people out," Avila said. "When there's a guy on third base, that's why [Leyland] has the confidence to play the infield back. It depends [on the situation], but he knows our guys have the stuff to get strikeouts. When I saw that, that didn't surprise me. And when there are guys on base, Max definitely tries to take it up a little bit and make sure he makes quality pitches."
The only pitch that hurt Scherzer came in the seventh after Brandon Moss led off the inning with an infield single, bringing Cespedes to the plate. Scherzer had struck him out on a changeup in the fifth and had him out in front of a changeup in this at-bat before the Athletics' left fielder hammered a 2-2 fastball for a home run that pulled Oakland to within a run.
"I didn't know what pitch to go with, and I thought if I went with my fastball, I could make him go away," Scherzer said. "The pitch caught too much of the plate and he took it deep, and that's just something that happens. It's baseball. It's pitching. And you move on."
That blast also brought the crowd back into the game, but Scherzer easily disposed of the next three hitters.
"The crowd was roaring and on their feet," Scherzer said. "To get those outs was big, because I was then able to pass [the lead] on to the pen."
It's possible the outcome would have been exactly the same if the Tigers hadn't gotten to Athletics starter Bartolo Colon for three runs in the top of the first, considering how well Scherzer was throwing the ball. But the Tigers are just as happy they didn't have to find out.
Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.