Baseball / Sports

Detroit Tigers pitcher Joba Chamberlain sprays sunscreen on teammate Bryan Holaday in the dugout before action against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Comerica Park in Detroit on Thursday, Aug. 14, 2014. The Tigers won, 5-2. (Julian H. Gonzalez/Detroit Free Press/MCT)

Max Scherzer dazzles as Tigers defeat Pirates

DETROIT -- Brad Ausmus thought he might have seen this before.

Three strikeouts in the first. Those swings and misses.

Three strikeouts in the second. That curveball.

"The Kerry Wood game kind of came to mind," the Detroit Tigers manager said.

Two more strikeouts in the third. "When he had eight through three, I was thinking, 'Jeez, this is similar to what we saw in Chicago that day,' " Ausmus said.

Ausmus was on the bad side of Wood's 20-strikeout game for the Chicago Cubs in 1998, but he was on the good side of another spectacular pitching performance on Thursday afternoon at Comerica Park, this one courtesy of Max Scherzer.

The defending American League Cy Young champion didn't strike out 20 -- he only struck out 14 -- but Scherzer gave the Tigers everything they could have asked for and more in a 5-2 win over the Pirates.

"It was extremely important," Ausmus said.

And perhaps equally as important, a day after their embattled closer made an unwise gesture, the Tigers' offense made sure that Joe Nathan didn't have to emerge awkwardly from the bullpen in trying to close the door.

Nathan was warming up for the save situation as the Tigers hit in the bottom of the eighth inning, and it crossed Ausmus' mind, he admitted, the incident the night before -- "Sometimes it's better to get it out of the way quickly" -- but the righty sat down after a trio of insurance runs made the score 5-0 and all but sealed Scherzer's latest gem, something Nathan couldn't do in Scherzer's last start.

On Saturday, Scherzer spun eight innings with double-digit strikeouts against the Toronto Blue Jays, giving up just one run. Nathan blew the lead and the Tigers eventually lost in 10 innings.

On Thursday, it was eight scoreless, a few more strikeouts and a few fewer hits. Scherzer's final line: Eight innings, no runs, three hits, 14 strikeouts -- a final line the Tigers have only seen twice in their storied history.

Mickey Lolich in 1970 was the only previous Tiger to strike out 14 or more over eight scoreless innings while allowing three hits or fewer. Scherzer's fastball was fast. His breaking balls were breaking. But most of all, he was locating.

"When I combine all those facets together, that's when I'm at my best and that's when the strikeouts usually come," he said.

And they came in bunches, early and often, and Scherzer was pitching so well that when J.D. Martinez snapped a scoreless game in the fifth inning with a solo home run, he later referred to that one run as a "cushion" for Scherzer.

After the home run, Ausmus said, "the silence in the dugout immediately went away."

But as Scherzer cruised through the middle innings, into the seventh and out of the eighth on a season-high 121 pitches, leaving to a standing ovation from a sellout crowd, the one thing left silenced were Pittsburgh's bats.

(c)2014 Detroit Free Press

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