Whether the Detroit Tigers won or lost Game 5, Max Scherzer knew the pressure level for his Game 6 start was going to be high.
Being on the brink of elimination at Fenway Park on Saturday doesn’t change the 21-game winner’s mentality.
“Every game is a must-win,” Scherzer said. “I haven’t played a game yet where it hasn’t been a must-win situation for us. For me it’s the same mentality every single time we take the field.”
Three of his 10 career postseason starts (and five appearances overall) have come with the Tigers either facing elimination or having a chance to clinch a series.
With the Tigers down, 2-1, to Oakland in the Division Series, Scherzer pitched two innings of relief as Detroit won Game 4. He also won Game 1 of that series with seven strong innings.
This will be just the second time he’s started a Game 6, following a start in the 2011 ALCS in which he gave up six runs in 2⅓ innings in a 15-5 loss to Texas. But in these circumstances, the Tigers are confident with him on the mound.
“I like our chances,” said Tigers outfielder Torii Hunter.
In his Game 2 start against the Sox, Scherzer was dominant, taking a no-hitter into the sixth and giving up just one run in seven innings. But after he left, the Sox were able to rally for a 6-5 win.
Facing the Sox for the second time in six days, Scherzer said the challenges will be different.
“It changes because they’re familiar with what I did,” he said. “Obviously they’re going to be looking through the film and watching what I did, the sequences, patterns, when I threw offspeed pitches, when I didn’t. Obviously I’ve got to be ahead of the curve.
“Obviously I don’t know exactly what I’m going to do. But there will be things I do differently.”
The magnitude of the game, he said, won’t matter once he’s on the mound.
“You just go out there and pitch your game,” he said. “Baseball is still the same, 60 feet and 6 inches, and you have to throw strikes. The expectations and pressure doesn’t mean you change. That’s something that’s always been instilled in me, it doesn’t matter what the situation or what the game means, I’m always going to approach the game the same way.”
Going out of his way
After putting together his own personal highlight reel in Game 5, Jose Iglesias will be starting at shortstop in Game 6. He’s started seven games in his first postseason, with manager Jim Leyland going out of his way to keep Iglesias in the field.
In the third inning of Game 4, with David Ortiz at the plate, Iglesias was shifted so far over he was practically playing second base. When Ortiz sent a looper to shallow left field, it seemed like it would drop in no-man’s land — until Iglesias came racing into the picture.
He sprinted more than 100 feet to chase the ball down, making a dazzling scoop at his shins.
“It was pretty impressive,” said Hunter. “He has a pretty good glove out there. He’s like Omar Vizquel. I hadn’t seen anybody play like that since Omar Vizquel, Roberto Alomar. His glove is pretty impressive.”
Iglesias, though, considered the play pretty routine.
“It was a good play,” Iglesias said. “Get some momentum for the team.”
If being thrown out at the plate by a mile didn’t make it clear enough, Leyland said Miguel Cabrera is essentially playing base to base because of hip, abdominal, and groin injuries.
Health has played a part in Cabrera’s postseason production (.263 with two homers and seven RBIs in 10 games), turning what would be extra-base hits into singles. Cabrera’s mobility also has been affected at third base.
“When guys don’t run good, this is the thing we talk about all the time, they have a tendency to think they’re going one base at a time, so subsequently they don’t run all-out,” Leyland said. “Our guys do that. But some of our guys aren’t that fast.
“There’s no special sign or no special signal. [Third base coach] Tommy [Brookens] held him up [in the first inning Thursday] in plenty of time under normal circumstances, but circumstances aren’t normal. That’s the point I was trying to make last night, that we pretty much know right now with Miggy’s condition that it’s one base at a time.”
On the brink of elimination, Cabrera said he would continue to push through his health issues.
“I’ve got to play,” Cabrera said. “I’ve got to go out there and play my best game. It’s not time to complain, it’s not time to feel sorry about how you’re feeling right now. So you’ve to go out there and play.”
Jackson staying put
After going 1 for his first 13 in the ALCS, Austin Jackson is 4 for 8 in the past two games, both batting in the 8-hole. He responded to Leyland dropping him from the leadoff spot by reaching base in seven straight plate appearances.
Even though Jackson is back on track, Leyland said he had no plans of moving him back to the leadoff spot.
Leyland credited the production more to Jackson relaxing than Leyland strategizing.
“It’s nothing strategically from my part, but something good has happened because of it,” Leyland said. “And I think that that’s why the move was made, to try to relax him a little bit. And whether it’s coincidental or it worked, I don’t know . . . He’ll stay where he’s at for now.”
Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com.