The Detroit Tigers won their first series in 2 weeks, taking down the Pittsburgh Pirates 4-3 behind Max Scherzer's career high 15 strike outs. Alex Avila's 2 RBI single in the 7th was the game winning hit. The victory evened Scherzer's record at 3-3. Joaquin Benoit recorded his first save of the season for the Tigers. Pirates' starter Kevin Correia took the loss to fall to 1-5 on the year.
Scherzer set the tine for the game in the 1st inning. 3 up, 3 down, 9 strikes, 2 strike outs. But Correia, who had lost 4 straight, with 7.13 ERA for the month if May, was almost as good, allowing only a Miguel Cabrera 2nd inning single through 4 innings. The pitcher's duel was on.
The Pirates got on the scoreboard first, during a stretch of complete and utter dominance by Scherzer. In the 5th, Rod Barajas stunningly took a Scherzer pitch into to the deep left field seats after 5 consecutive Pirates had struck out. Scherzer immediately knew the ball was gone when it left the bat. The Pirates were being completely overwhelmed at the plate, yet were winning 1-0.
After the home run, Scherzer struck out the next 2 batters. In a absolutely ridiculous 8 batter stretch, Scherzer struck out 7, yet was losing 1-0, thanks to the Tigers' silent bats. Once again, Tigers' pitchers were working without an offensive safety net.
In the bottom of the inning, Jhonny Peralta was the first Tiger to do damage to Correia. Peralta's 2nd home run of the season was a solo shot to the opposite field, tying the game at 1 all.
But the pesky damn Pirates kept striking out...and hitting home runs. With 1 out in the 6th, Neil Walker hit a bomb...which hooked foul. A trio of 2 strike fouls later, Walker straightened out a Scherzer pitch...straight over the right field wall, giving the Pirates a 2-1 lead.
Scherzer returned for 1 more inning, putting the Pirates down 1-2-3 in the 7th. Josh Harrison was Scherzer's final K of the day, giving him a career high 15. It was also the most strike outs by a Tigers' pitcher since Mickey Lolich posted 15 on October 2, 1972. (Lolich holds the team record of 16 K in a game, twice in 1969) All in all, it was a marvelous performance by the often maddeningly inconsistent Scherzer.
In the 7th, the Tigers finally took Scherzer off the hook. Prince Fielder blooped a Texas leaguer into short left, which SS Clint Barmes booted into foul territory. The error allowed Fielder to advance to 2nd. Delmon Young, who stung the ball all series long, sent Fielder rumbling home on single up the middle, tying the game at 2-2. The run ended Correia's afternoon, bringing Tony Watson in relief.
For those of you expecting the rally to end there, including myself, well, we received a surprise. Young advanced to 2nd on a Brennan Boesch fielder's choice. The increasingly hot at the plate Peralta walked. Both runners advanced on Baraja's passed ball, which came back to bite the Pirates in a big way. With runners on 2nd and 3rd, manager Clint Hurdle brought the infield in, but Alex Avila made them pay. Avila reached out, poking a roller up the middle past a diving Barmes. The 2 RBI single gave the Tigers a 4-2 lead and Scherzer a shot at a deserved W.
Octavio Dotel took over in the 8th, but needed to be bailed out by Phil Coke. Dotel allowed a lead off single to Barmes, then his error on Andrew McCutchen's 2 out ground ball immediately sent Jim Leyland to the mound. He was not about to let this game get away. Coke took the mound to face Pedro Alvarez, striking him out to end the threat.
With Jose Valverde laid up until Tuesday, Joaquin Benoit was the designated closer. With 1 out in the 9th, the uber-annoying Harrison lined a double to left, then took 3rd on a wild pitch. Barajas' sac fly brought the Pirates to within 1, at 4-3. But Benoit froze Nate McClouth on a change up, the Tigers' 17 K ending the game.
For all of you crying for the Tigers to put Scherzer in the bullpen or send him to Toldeo after his performance against the White Sox in his last start? I think 15 strike outs in 7 innings is all the rebuttal you need. What you saw today is why the only thing you do with Scherzer is send him to the mound every 5th day.
When Scherzer is on his game, he's as good as anyone in major league baseball.