Scherzer fired his first career complete game, a three-hit shutout, propelling the Tigers to a 4-0 win over the White Sox on Thursday night at U.S. Cellular FIeld. The win prevented a sweep at the hands of their division rivals and broke a string of 178 straight big league starts for Scherzer that lasted fewer than nine innings.
"He was on his game tonight. He has a Cy Young for a reason," Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said. "He was on his game, we needed him to be on his game, he really was kind of the perfect antidote for us."
A high-strikeout pitcher, Scherzer typically takes high pitch counts deep into games, which may have prevented him from picking up a complete game in the past. He needed 113 pitches to go the distance on Thursday, benefitting from several quick innings. At 98 pitches after eight innings, there was no way Scherzer wasn't coming back out to finish the job. Like he does after every inning, Scherzer went straight to the clubhouse, this time without uttering a word.
"If they would've said anything, I would've told them, 'I have the ball,'" Scherzer said.
Said Ausmus, "He came off the mound at the end of eight and you really didn't have to ask him, you knew he was going back out."
Scherzer dominated the White Sox by aggressively attacking hitters. He retired the first six on 23 pitches before running into mild trouble in the third. Alejandro De Aza walked with one out and Adam Eaton with two, but Scherzer induced a flyout from Gordon Beckham to strand the pair. After Alexei Ramirez picked up Chicago's first hit with a two-out double in the fourth, Scherzer retired 16 of the final 19 hitters he faced, including a string of 10 in a row.
"For me, I was able to start attacking the zone better and everything kind of worked off that," Scherzer said. "When I pound the zone with my fastball, that's when everything else goes. I pitch off my fastball. Nothing else works unless I'm throwing fastballs for strikes."
And it wasn't just the fastball. Scherzer said he used his slider early in the game when he fell behind in the count. In the fourth inning, he got his changeup going. Around the sixth inning, his curveball came to life.
"He used all his pitches. He had a couple changeups early that were outstanding, had a lot of depth to them, and were also swing-and-miss pitches," Ausmus said. "He had his best stuff. When you go through any Major League lineup for nine innings and don't give up a run, you gotta have pretty good stuff."
Scherzer outdueled White Sox ace Chris Sale, who was nearly as effective. Sale allowed just one run -- courtesy of Victor Martinez's 16th homer leading off the fifth -- with 10 strikeouts and no walks over seven innings.
"He was dominant. That's about all you can say about him," Sale said of Scherzer. "You know coming into this who you are going up against and it's not going to be easy. For a long time there, it was who was going to flinch first. Unfortunately, it was me."
The Tigers then came alive in the eighth against Chicago's bullpen. Bryan Holaday and Eugenio Suarez started the inning with singles and moved up a base on Rajai Davis' slow roller to third. After Ian Kinsler struck out, Miguel Cabrera chopped a slow grounder up the middle that eluded Gordon Beckham, who tried to make a barehanded pickup, and both runners scored for a 3-0 lead. Holaday plated the final run with a single in the ninth against reliever Daniel Webb.
Scherzer's ability to toss a quick first inning had Ausmus thinking "complete game" that early. It paid off later when he had all of his stuff working. Without those quick early innings, Scherzer might not have had it all come together.
"That was our goal from the get-go, to get some quick outs and try to get Max as deep as we can," said Holaday, who didn't know it was Scherzer's first complete game until after the win. "It worked out that his pitch count was down and he was able to go the distance."
He needed all four pitches to slice and dice the White Sox lineup -- even if it was unpredictable what would be there for him.
"No, it's just a crapshoot. Sometimes they kick in," Scherzer said. "There's been days when I can't even find my fastball. There's days I can't find my slider. And then there's other days you have a feel of it right out of the gate."
Scherzer eventually found it all, and got stronger as the game went along. Even a two-minute, 50-second delay on an Adam Dunn line drive that was ruled a single after replay review couldn't knock him off stride. A few more minutes were annoying, but he had waited too long for this.
"It's awesome," he said. "I finally got the monkey off my back, finally was able to go nine and finish the deal. So it's a great feeling."