With every passing start, Tigers manager Jim Leyland could sense Max Scherzer gaining momentum.
Over Scherzer’s first 17 starts, he went 13-0 and the Tigers were 14-3. In five of those starts, he notched at least 10 strikeouts. In seven of them, he gave up only one earned run.
“I think he’s one of those guys that it happens now and then, guys get on a roll,” Leyland said. “Whether it’s the guy shooting 3-pointers or hot field goal kicker or whatever it is. In sports, guys get on a roll from time to time. And he’s been on a positive roll.”
Even though the numbers and the momentum continued to build over a season in which Scherzer went 21-3 with 240 strikeouts and a 2.90 ERA, the 23-year-old righthander said he stayed on an even keel.
“My confidence level has always been the same,” said Scherzer, who will try to give the Tigers a 2-0 lead in the American League Championship Series when he starts Game 2 Sunday night at Fenway Park. “I believe confidence is a choice and I always choose to believe that I’m going to come out on top. It doesn’t matter if you’re struggling. It doesn’t matter if you’re on top. You’ve always got to believe that you’re going to have success and this year, I had the same confidence level as I’ve had my entire career.”
The results made him the Cy Young front-runner, and one of the keys in his breakout season has been consistency, Leyland said.
“I just think a little more experience and he got to where he could repeat his delivery mechanically on a more consistent basis,” Leyland said. “He had a curveball, another kind of show-me weapon pitch. But basically because he kept his mechanics intact, for the most part. And he was able to do that consistently.”
While Scherzer was on his early-season tear, so was Clay Buchholz, who will face Scherzer. The Red Sox won nine of Buchholz’s first 12 starts before the righthander went down with a shoulder injury in June that kept him out until September.
From afar, Scherzer kept a watchful eye on Buchholz.
“Obviously he was pitching absolutely lights-out,” Scherzer said. ”I think he’s back and he’s going to bring his A stuff, so I’m going to have to match him.”
Peralta in left
The concept of playing left field was already fairly foreign to Jhonny Peralta, but playing the position at Fenway Park with the Green Monster behind him will make the experience even trickier.
The Wall had its way with Rays outfielder Sean Rodriguez in the American League Division Series. The Sox were able to pile up extra bases as Rodriguez struggled to read the awkward caroms.
Even though Peralta had only three games of major league experience — a season-ending three-game set in Miami — before stepping in during the ALDS, Leyland downplayed the challenge.
“We’re not making too big a deal out of that,” Leyland said. “Everyone is making a big deal out of it. Heard somebody talking about the ladder. Carl Yastrzemski, who played the ladder, he was one hell of a man. When it hits that ladder, I don’t think any Red Sox, Tiger, Kansas City Royal, or anyone else knows where it’s going.
“It is a little tricky to play the Wall. And the Red Sox do that better because they’re used to it. As far as getting carried away, talking about the ladder, that’s ridiculous, nobody knows what it’s going to do when it hits that thing. Just do the best you can with it.”
The Red Sox stole six bases in the ALDS — and two more in Game 1 of the ALCS Saturday night — so Scherzer already has base running on the brain. Teams ran wild on the Tigers in the regular season, swiping 128 bases with an 82 percent success rate (the Sox gave up 133 steals). But of all the Tigers pitchers, the two that made it the most difficult on runners were Doug Fister, who allowed only eight steals, and Scherzer, who allowed 14. “That’s something I always pride myself in is trying to prevent the other team from stealing bases against me,” Scherzer said. “I know Boston does a very good job of that. That’s part of the reason why they’re able to create so many runs is because of their ability to their steal bases. A team-high eight runners were caught trying to steal on Scherzer. “For me it comes down to the simple fact, I’ve got to be able to change my timing,” he said. “I like to hold the ball. I feel like that really disrupts the base runners. You can’t be repetitive, because they can just time you and figure you out.” . . . The Tigers activated lefthanded reliever Phil Coke and dropped righthander Luke Putkonen. David Ortiz is 2 for 18 in his career against Coke. “We were expecting that,” Sox manager John Farrell said. Coke has not pitched particularly well this season (5.40 ERA,1.67 WHIP) and has not pitched since Sept. 18. Ortiz was 1 for 3 against Coke this season with an RBI single. He also grounded out and hit a fly ball to deep right field.
Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com.