Scherzer builds on remarkable start with historic feat
Right-hander becomes first pitcher to reach 12-0 record in 27 years
ST. PETERSBURG -- The game was just six minutes old when mighty Miguel Cabrera sent Alex Colome's fastball screaming to the left-field seats and Max Scherzer had a 2-0 gift before he threw his first pitch.
The Detroit Tigers have been playing baseball for 113 years and never before has one of their pitchers opened the season 12-0.
But the 28-year-old Scherzer etched that number in the record books on Friday night at Tropicana Field with seven strong -- if not historic -- innings as the Tigers stunned the Rays, 6-3.
He's also the first starting pitcher to open a season 12-0 since Roger Clemens did it 27 years ago for the Boston Red Sox en route to his 14-0 start.
Scherzer is the best pitcher in the Major Leagues right now. He'll probably start the All-Star Game at New York's Citi Field on July 16, and unless he falls apart, he should win the American League Cy Young Award.
It's becoming that kind of season for the St. Louis native, who's moved ahead of teammate Justin Verlander as the ace of this AL Central Division-leading juggernaut.
"It's really nice being 12-0. I'm pitching well, but the reason why I'm 12-0 is because of my offense," he politely said after Friday's game. "You got to see it firsthand today. [Cabrera] hits two home runs on three pitches, goes 4-for-4 and Prince [Fielder] hits a bomb."
Partly true. Yes, Cabrera, 2012's AL MVP and the first player to win the Triple Crown since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967, blasted his two homers, singled and doubled to power the Tigers' eight-hit offense.
And when the Rays closed to within a run at 4-3 during Scherzer's last inning, the seventh, Fielder hit a gigantic two-run homer in the eighth off what is called the "C Ring" at the Trop. That made life much easier for the Detroit bullpen, which shut down the Rays in the final two innings.
It was Scherzer's night, but not as easy for him as you might think.
Given the 2-0 first-inning lead, he put the first 11 Rays down in order with five strikeouts before Ben Zobrist homered with two out in the fourth on Scherzer's 44th pitch.
As Scherzer spent the day in St. Petersburg before coming to the Trop, I suggested he had to be thinking about being 11-0, and all the hoopla attached to his quest for No. 12.
He insisted, maybe white-lied, that wasn't on his mind.
"All I thought about was winning today. That's all that matters," he said. "My personal record is more a reflection on the team. I cannot get caught up in the win-loss record because it's kind of fluky.
"Yesterday, Doug Fister goes seven innings, gives up just one run and gets a no-decision. I go seven tonight, give up three runs and get a win. That's why [wins] are a fluky stat."
"Max has been lights-out this year," Fielder said. "He has a lot of confidence and we have a lot of confidence in him. It's exciting to see him win. He's just outstanding."
In the seventh inning, as Scherzer's pitch count approached 100, he got two quick outs before rookie phenom Wil Myers, who homered in the fifth, singled to right field. Luke Scott followed with a double to the right-field corner and the Rays appeared to have Scherzer on the ropes.
Pitching coach Jeff Jones went to the mound, and after he left, Scherzer walked off the back of the mound, obviously collecting his thoughts. This was certainly his last inning, with the 12-0 hanging in the balance.
Jose Lobaton was the batter.
"I was thinking about how I was going to pitch him," Scherzer said. "I was thinking how I approached him before, and what I would start him off with. I had to gather myself because no matter, I was going at him with my best stuff -- best fastball, best changeup. I knew my pitch count was running up there and I needed to be aggressive in that situation."
Manager Jim Leyland said he was "happy for Max. He did a terrific job, obviously, and the big guys did what they do. Cabrera was terrific tonight, and Prince hit the big bomb. It was a nice combination."
Rays manager Joe Maddon, trying to analyze what makes Scherzer tick -- and win -- said, "He's a strike thrower. He gets lefties and righties out.
"Yes, he's good. He's got a little bit of that Wiffle ball look from the side where the ball is jumping all over the place. Then, he gets the velocity when he wants it. There's a reason why he's 12-0 -- he's very good."
Scherzer, whose ERA is at 3.10, allowed the three runs, just four hits, walked one and struck out nine.
Max tries to shrug off his amazing start, insisting the bottom line is whether the Tigers win.
But without his awesome start, they might not be headed to another division title.
And by the way, he'll go for No. 13 next week in Toronto.
The Tigers are hoping it will be another lucky number for their ace.
Hal Bodley is the senior correspondent for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.