Scherzer bore down on the batter, Erick Aybar, and came up with one of his nine strikeouts at the perfect time. The Tigers hung on for a 5-2 win, their first over the Angels since Aug. 26, 2012. Since then, Los Angeles had won 10 straight in the series -- the longest streak in baseball by one team over another.
Detroit manager Brad Ausmus called the Aybar at-bat "the turning point in the game." The way Scherzer approached it, with the Tigers ahead 3-1 at the time, may have saved the day.
Because Los Angeles manager Mike Scioscia was willing to part with his challenge on that particular play, Scherzer took that as a pretty strong indicator that the call would be overturned.
Rather than opt for wishful thinking and trot back into the dugout, hoping that the third out would stand, Scherzer simulated the ensuing at-bat with catcher Bryan Holaday.
"I knew it was probably going to be overturned, and it's going to be second and third with a 3-1 count against Aybar," Scherzer said. "I went through the whole scenario. Said I'm probably going to need to execute a changeup. Got [Angels catcher Hank] Conger on deck -- the whole nine yards.
"I didn't go in the dugout because I didn't want to give myself a chance to mentally come down. I wanted to stay 100-percent focused on what I needed to do."
With the count at 3-1 after the reversal, Scherzer indeed went to the changeup for a strike. After a fastball that was fouled off, Scherzer again gave Aybar the changeup, and he whiffed.
All afternoon, Scherzer used his fastball to get ahead in counts and then went to his offspeed pitches to record outs. He made that adjustment soon after the game's first batter, Angels outfielder J.B. Shuck, homered to right for his second career leadoff blast.
"For some reason, I was never concerned about the home run," Ausmus said. "Max looked, from that point on, like he was in control the entire game, really."
Considering Scherzer struck out two of the most feared hitters in the AL in Mike Trout and Albert Pujols, the attitude seemed to work. A night after Trout reached base three times in Los Angeles' series-opening win, he had likely his worst performance at the plate, striking out a career-high four times. Three of those strikeouts were Scherzer's; closer Joe Nathan took care of Trout in the ninth.
Scherzer and Ausmus both acknowledged how important it was for Scherzer to last deep into Saturday's game, given the bullpen's workload of late. No Detroit starter had lasted beyond the fifth inning in a week, but Scherzer made it through seven after gaining momentum from the momentous Aybar at-bat. He induced groundouts of the last four batters he faced to pick up his first win of the season.
The Tigers had built their lead in the second and third innings by playing long ball and small ball off Angels starter C.J. Wilson, one of five lefties Detroit is scheduled to see in a span of six games.
Austin Jackson began the bottom half of the second with a single up the middle. Rookie Nick Castellanos followed with his second home run, a towering shot to left off Wilson's knee-high offering.
"He kind of just left it over the plate, and I put a good swing on it," Castellanos said.
Detroit showed its ability to manufacture runs in the next frame. Miguel Cabrera reached on an error by Los Angeles right fielder Brennan Boesch, a former Tiger who was called up this week. After a walk was issued to Victor Martinez, who later homered in the fifth, Torii Hunter moved Cabrera to third on a flyout to center. Video review overturned the initial call, which was that third baseman Stewart put the tag on Cabrera before he reached the base. Jackson then hit a deep sacrifice fly to right to score Detroit's third run.
Scherzer tapped out for Joba Chamberlain, who came on to pitch a perfect eighth, including two strikeouts. He extended his streak of scoreless appearances to five games.
"Joba's been good the last few outings, but that's by far the best we've seen him," Ausmus said. "If he keeps throwing all strikes, he'll pitch a lot."
In the ninth, despite it being a non-save situation, Ausmus turned it over to Nathan who, after striking out Trout, served up Pujols' 498th career home run. The solo shot cut the Tigers' lead to three, but a groundout and the Detroit pitching staff's season-high-tying 13th strikeout ended it, making Sunday's game the rubber match.