Scherzer takes over MLB strikeout lead with win

Scherzer takes over MLB strikeout lead with win

Scherzer takes over MLB strikeout lead with win
DETROIT -- Max Scherzer remains on pace for the highest strikeout rate per nine innings by a starter since Randy Johnson in 2002. The Blue Jays came to town with more strikeouts than hits in August. You can figure out what followed.

"He's got a good routine going, and he's pounding [the strike zone]," catcher Gerald Laird said. "He's making adjustments. Tonight it was fun for me to catch."

Figuring out how the Tigers' offense provided Scherzer with the support to turn seven innings of one-run, eight-strikeout ball into a 5-3 win, on the other hand, is a little more complicated.

"It was a freaky game to manage, to be honest with you," manager Jim Leyland said, "because you're thinking you're going to break this open. You look up, you've got two runs, [then] you've got three runs, and it seems like you've had a lot of guys out there.

"But the guy also, to his credit, made some nasty pitches, and that's tough to hit when the guy's not even close and then throws one right on the black or whatever. That's hard."

"The guy" was Blue Jays ace Ricky Romero, who has had a roller coaster of a season. His command went in and out, and the Tigers were riding in the front car.

Not since Texas' Jose Guzman in 1991 had an American League pitcher walked eight in a game without striking out any. The only Major League hurler to do it in the last 20 years was Colorado's Greg Reynolds in 2008. But neither of them had the track record of Romero, an All-Star in 2011 and a 42-game winner over his first three Major League seasons.

On the same night Scherzer took over the Major League lead in strikeouts, Romero vaulted into the AL lead in walks and joined that eight-walk-no-strikeout club. It was as dramatic a contrast as you could find without scripting it, yet the game ended up much closer.

The Tigers managed a lone infield hit with the bases loaded in three innings yet still produced a handful of runs. It wasn't particularly pretty, but the way Scherzer was dealing, it was enough.

"We had [Romero] on the ropes a few times, but I think we got out of our plan and he was able to get out of it," Laird said. "This game could have easily gotten out of hand, and we could have won easily."

Delmon Young, whose first bases-loaded walk since Aug. 9 of last season opened the scoring in the first inning, took a bottom-line outlook.

"We scored five runs," Young said. "If you can't win with five runs, you shouldn't be playing baseball."

Scherzer is 10-1 when the Tigers score five runs for him. But the way he's been pitching lately, he can win with fewer.

Once Scherzer sent down Edwin Encarnacion on a 99-mph fastball to end the third inning, he took over the AL strikeout lead from Justin Verlander (180). He began the next inning by freezing David Cooper on a changeup to pass Mets knuckleballer R.A. Dickey (181) for the Major League lead.

Scherzer (13-6) now has 186 Ks, three ahead of the Nationals' Stephen Strasburg, who also passed Dickey on Tuesday with a 10-K start against the Braves.

He struck out five in a 10-batter span before Encarnacion led off the sixth by lofting a drive down the left-field line for his 32nd home run of the year. He recovered to throw a 96-mph fastball past Kelly Johnson to set a career high in strikeouts.

Scherzer, who calls his final 15 pitches his most important of the game, ended his night by spotting a 97-mph fastball on Anthony Gose for strikeout No. 186, completing his fifth seven-inning performance in nine starts.

"Strikeouts are nice," Scherzer said, "but at the end of the day, it comes down to the team winning. That's the only thing I care about."

Said Leyland: "He's a hot pitcher, and he's just scratched the surface."

By then the Tigers were already ahead, though not particularly in command after Romero's wild first inning. A four-pitch, two-out walk to Prince Fielder with Austin Jackson on second turned into a debacle once Jhonny Peralta escaped an 0-2 count for a pass and Young walked on four pitches.

Romero reloaded the bases to start the second by walking Andy Dirks and Laird at the bottom of the order ahead of a Jackson single. Omar Infante drove in another run on a four-pitch walk, but Romero again escaped a big inning by inducing a double-play grounder from Miguel Cabrera and a lineout from Fielder.

"It's one of those things where you just kind of get into a groove," Romero said, "and I think early on I was having a tough time throwing strikes. Once you kind of get into that groove, you try to keep it as long as possible, and you just try to go from there."

Romero gathered himself from there until two walks and a single, again by the bottom third of the Tigers' order, set up his demise in the sixth. Jackson hit into an out at the plate, but a misstep from Cooper at first allowed Infante to beat his mad dash to the bag for another run before Cabrera hit a sacrifice fly.

Romero (8-11) is now 0-10 with a 7.69 ERA and a 1.961 WHIP in his last 11 starts. Scherzer, by contrast, is 8-2 with a 2.91 ERA in his last 12 starts, striking out 98 over 77 1/3 innings. Yet after the Jays' late-game rally, it still came down to closer Jose Valverde getting a checked swing call on Encarnacion from first-base umpire Tom Hallion with the potential tying run on base to end it.

They'll take it.

"I didn't know," Laird said of the game's final strike. "I just wanted to sell it, so I asked real hard."

Jason Beck is a reporter for Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.