DETROIT — Max Scherzer and Chris Sale could not be kept from facing off and neither pitcher would disappoint. Scherzer and Sale met under favorable conditions Thursday night and both started out with two 1-2-3 innings, matching each other pitch-for-pitch through six innings. But Scherzer ultimately won the battle and pitched the first complete game of his major league career, shutting out the Chicago White Sox.
The Tigers struck first with a leadoff single in the fourth off the bat of Rajai Davis, and Scherzer would not give up a hit until the fourth inning on a double by Alexei Ramirez, which had no lasting damage. Through four innings Scherzer and Sale were at 56 and 57 pitches, respectively, making it a true pitcher's battle.
To say that Scherzer's command was drastically improved since his last outing is an understatement. He pounded the strike zone with regularity, pitching efficiently through nine complete innings. Scherzer dominated pitchers, allowing just three hits while striking eight out, getting hitters to swing and miss at pitches which disappeared as they approached the plate. Scherzer walked three but they were early in the game and nothing resulted from the walks.
Victor Martinez got the Tigers off to a fine start when he planted his 16th home run of the season firmly past the left field wall and put the Tigers in the lead 1-0 in the fifth inning. The home run brought Martinez's home-run-to-strikeouts ratio even again, was his eighth go-ahead home run and his fifth tie or go-ahead homer of the season.
Hunter followed Martinez's home run with a single, and a nice battle between Bryan Holaday and Sale ended in a nice dribbler off the glove of Sale that died on the infield grass for a base hit. Eugenio Suarez had a battle of his own, but lost to Sale's eighth strikeout of the night.
After the home run by Martinez, the Tigers were more or less in business and put up five hits against Sale through seven innings, despite being struck out 10 times. Considering the high-stakes pitching matchup going on at Cellular Field, those five hits more closely resembled 10.
But the biggest inning for the Tigers would come in the eighth inning when Cabrera — who had been struck out by Sale in the fourth inning — squeaked a two-RBI infield single out of a ball that barely had enough life in it for a kitten. With the two-RBI single, Cabrera is now hitting .431 with 40 RBI with runners in scoring position this season.
Don Kelly and Holaday capped off the Tigers' four runs with a leadoff single by Kelly, who later stole second and scored on an RBI single by Holaday in the ninth inning. The Tigers had been struggling to get all cylinders firing at once, but Thursday night there was next to no sign of those struggles as they shut down the White Sox thanks to Scherzer's dominant performance.
Meanwhile, Scherzer's game gave the bullpen a much needed night off and Kelly's stolen base was the Tigers' 45th of the season which ties them for fourth in the American League with the Texas Rangers. Bryan Holaday was behind the plate for Scherzer and went 3-4 for the night with a run scored and an RBI. He was the only Tigers player with more than one hit.