OAKLAND, Calif. — It doesn’t matter all that much to Max Scherzer when or where he pitches, or exactly how he goes about piling up his victories.
Pitching the opener of the playoffs still meant plenty — and his spectacular Game 1 performance provided quite an October jolt for the Detroit Tigers as they chase a return trip to the World Series.
Given the ball from manager Jim Leyland ahead of Justin Verlander, Scherzer struck out 11 and dazzled with an array of effective pitches as the Tigers grabbed the lead in their AL division series against the Oakland Athletics with a 3-2 win Friday night.
“It was the same as always. I don’t get caught up in the hoopla, worry about where I’m pitching or if I’m pitching Game 1 or Game 5,” Scherzer said. “When you’re pitching against a postseason team like the A’s, you have to bring your game. And tonight I was able to pitch effectively and pitch well against their left-handed hitters, and that’s the reason why I had success tonight.”
A lot of it, in fact.
Yoenis Cespedes was the only A’s player to have success against Scherzer, who retired 16 of the first 18 batters he faced. Cespedes hit a two-run homer but also a triple that didn’t produce a run in the second.
Scherzer overpowered the A’s with his blazing fastball, then baffled them with his off-speed stuff. The A’s struck out 16 times in all, a franchise record in a postseason game.
“He was awful determined,” Leyland said. “He was thrilled to get Game 1. I think it meant a lot to him, even though he said it didn’t matter which game he pitched. And I think he responded like we expected him to respond.”
Miguel Cabrera helped stake Detroit to an early lead before the banged-up slugger left in the eighth as a precaution. He insists he is just fine, saying: “For us, it’s not an issue. It’s no time to complain, no time to worry.”
Cabrera, hindered by a groin strain late in a season of injuries for last year’s Triple Crown winner, didn’t have to overextend himself on defense thanks to Scherzer’s 118-pitch gem. But he did look uncomfortable running out a grounder in the eighth.
“I wasn’t very comfortable taking him out of a one-run game, but there was a little bit more to it,” Leyland said.
Scherzer retired 16 of his first 18 batters and was nearly untouchable before Cespedes hit a two-run drive in the seventh for his first career playoff home run. The strikeouts were his most in seven postseason starts.
Cespedes struck out in the ninth against Benoit, who retired the final four batters with three Ks for the save.