NEW YORK -- Like many baseball playing kids, when Mighty Max Scherzer grew up in St. Louis he dreamt of starring in the postseason for some Major League team, any team. That dream came true for the 27-year-old Tigers right-hander on Sunday in Game 2 of the American League Division Series at Yankee Stadium.
"I've always been a baseball fan my whole life," Scherzer said after the Tigers hung on to win, 5-3, evening the best-of-five series at a game apiece. "The postseason is what it's all about. Everything is on the line. Every game is a must-win game and you always want to be able to pitch your best in these situations. Today, I was actually able to come out pretty calm, be able to settle in and throw a really good game."
It was Scherzer's first foray into the postseason in his fourth big league season and he made every one of his 104 pitches count, pitching a no-hitter into the sixth inning.
After a shaky 27-pitch first inning, Scherzer held the Bronx Bombers to two hits -- a pair of singles -- while walking four and striking out five. By the time he left with none out in the seventh after allowing the first two batters to reach safely, he had staked his club to a 4-0 lead.
When he looked up at scoreboard as he went out to pitch the sixth, Scherzer said he knew he was working on a no-hitter. Curtis Granderson flied out to open the inning and Robinson Cano blooped a single to left in front of the hard-charging Delmon Young. With that, the no-hit spell was broken, but Scherzer effortlessly retired the Yankees without incident to end the inning.
"Yeah, I was aware of it," Scherzer said about working on the no-no. "I was aware that I had it going. But that's the fun part of baseball and the fun part of pitching. Now you can continue to execute. Obviously, if you're working on a no-hitter, that means you're probably pitching pretty well."
Scherzer came into the game a career 36-35 pitcher with a 3.92 ERA. He was 15-9 on the season, but his splits are much better in the larger expanse of Detroit's Comerica Park where the two teams will meet for Game 3 on Monday night.
Against the Yankees during this past regular season, Scherzer was victorious twice, but seemed like he was pitching in parallel universes. He defeated the Yankees right here at the Stadium, 10-7, on April 3 during a game in which he lasted just five innings, allowing six runs on nine hits, including four homers. On May 4 in Detroit, he was much more on his game, throwing eight innings of four-hit, shutout ball in a 4-0 win.
But that was the kind of season it was for Scherzer. He was 8-4 at Comerica Park with a manageable 3.80 ERA. On the road, the numbers were 7-5 with a 5.23 ERA. He allowed 11 homers at home and 18 away.
The fact that he was able to calm those demons and pitch effectively at Yankee Stadium in October is a measure of his maturity.
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"I think he zeroed in today. He was locked in. He was determined," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said about Scherzer. "You never know what's going to happen, but it was a big stage and there's no question about it that he was terrific today against a great lineup."
Scherzer was so effective mixing up a fastball in the high 90s with his changeup and slider that all the Yankees could do was try to wait him out at the plate.
"Scherzer didn't give us much of anything," said Derek Jeter, the Yankees captain and shortstop who was 0-for-5 in the game, the first three problematic at-bats coming against Mighty Max.
"I thought he had great movement on his fastball today and his changeup was effective as well," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "He just kept us from putting the barrel of the bat on the ball."
Scherzer is not so far removed from that day in 2006 when Arizona made him its first-round pick and 11th overall in the First-Year Player Draft.
He came to Detroit via the D-backs in the Dec. 8, 2009, three-way trade that also included the Yankees. Arizona got Ian Kennedy and sent Scherzer and left-hander Daniel Schlereth to the Tigers, who traded Curtis Granderson to New York and received Austin Jackson.
Scherzer still looks like the wide-eyed kid who was brought up to the D-backs in 2008 and battled through fatigue and shoulder problems.
Sure, Scherzer said, he dreamt of making his mark in the postseason as a youngster.
"I think every kid has those dreams," he recalled. "But for me as a kid, I was dreaming about hitting in it, not pitching in it."
Now he has to dream no more.