In this fragile environment, when pitchers are dropping at an alarming rate to Tommy John surgery and other assorted ailments, it takes guts to turn down a six-year, $144 million contract offer.
Guts, however, is precisely what Tigers righthander Max Scherzer has.
How else do you escape a first-and-second, nobody-out jam by inducing a double-play grounder, then getting the third out via strikeout by throwing a changeup? That’s what Scherzer did to prevent a potential big Boston inning in the sixth.
Nothing seems to faze Scherzer, last year’s American League Cy Young winner, who is backing up his refusal of that generous offer with another very good season and was matched up with fellow ace Jon Lester at Fenway Park Friday night.
Lester got his pitch count up and was done after five innings, but allowed just one run in the first inning in an eventual 1-0 Tigers’ win. Scherzer was able to outpitch Lester slightly in this American League Championship Series rematch.
Will Scherzer’s roll of the dice mean he’ll earn more than $144 million elsewhere?
Agent Scott Boras is probably banking on either the Tigers reconsidering their offer, or he may be thinking another team (the Yankees?) will have to go all out to rebuild their pitching staff. Scherzer would look good to them.
Scherzer would look good for anyone.
With the way he’s pitching, he might be in the range of teammate Justin Verlander — 10 years, $219 million.
He managed to get through six innings despite a 47-minute rain delay in the fourth. Scherzer had no problem coming back and holding the Sox to three hits.
He didn’t allow the first one until David Ortiz lined a hard shot to right-center in the fourth. The next one was a leadoff single by David Ross in the sixth. After Scherzer walked Dustin Pedroia, Grady Sizemore knocked into the 4-6-3 double play, Ortiz was walked intentionally, and Mike Napoli struck out on a 1-and-2 changeup.
Scherzer hadn’t thrown many of those all night.
In fact, he said he thought his changeup was lacking. Except for the one he threw to Napoli.
“There were times I was yanking the changeup to lefties and I didn’t have the action on it all night. Against Napoli I had shown him fastball/slider all night so I thought if I executed a good changeup right there and I did, I was able to freeze him and get a huge strikeout in that situation,” Scherzer said.
It wasn’t a perfect game for Scherzer, but an effective one for sure. While he walked four and didn’t throw as many first-pitch strikes as he would have liked, he left after allowing a bloop single to Mike Carp to start the seventh with a 1-0 lead.
Scherzer took advantage of a Red Sox lineup which has struggled at the bottom, where Jackie Bradley and Will Middlebrooks reside. Also, Shane Victorino (knee) was out of the lineup.
Scherzer was ruthless with Bradley, striking him out and forcing a dribbler to first base in the fifth. Middlebrooks struck out and grounded out in his two at-bats.
“Max pitched outstanding for us and Lester for them,” Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said. “Rain put a crimp in it. I don’t know if Max could have gone deeper had the rain not been factored into it.”
Ausmus said he decided the drop-dead time for whether Scherzer would go back out was one hour.
But the Tigers benefited as Scherzer earned his sixth consecutive victory to improve to 6-1. He lowered his ERA to 1.83.
Scherzer played catch at about the 25-minute mark of the rain delay. He felt loose enough and was “still sweating” to the point where he felt confident he could return without any difficulty.
Scherzer benefited by having Verlander as a role model and somebody to emulate.
“I think all the starters have something akin to a sibling rivalry,” Ausmus said. “They want to outdo each other in a sense, but they’re also pulling for one another. It’s a friendly competition. I would think he’d learned something from Justin.”
While Ausmus thought Scherzer had his “best stuff of the year,” Scherzer said he didn’t feel that way because of the walks.
“I didn’t pitch my best, but with men on base I made some big pitches. I put myself in a corner in the sixth, but I was able to get a big double play and then the strikeout.
“I thought that was a big play in the game,” Scherzer said.
Yes with Scherzer, Verlander, Anibal Sanchez, a revived Rick Porcello, and lefty Drew Smyly, the Tigers are living large in the American League.
Right now, they have the best team and a championship pitching staff.
Scherzer is pitching for a new, and very large contract.
He may not be a Tiger at this time next season, but if he wins 20 and is in contention for another Cy Young, the Tigers may take this one step farther than last season, when they lost to the Red Sox.
Sure, Scherzer is taking a chance. He’s a gambler. But he’s a gutsy one.
On the field, and off it.Nick Cafardo can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.