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 Fevered pitching carries Tigers to World Series

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PostSubject: Fevered pitching carries Tigers to World Series   Fri Oct 19, 2012 1:38 am

Tigers starting pitcher Max Scherzer celebrates in the locker room after the game. (David Guralnick/Detroit News)

October 18, 2012 at 11:42 pm
John Niyo
Fevered pitching carries Tigers to World Series

Detroit — It's all within reach now. And with these arms, it's a fair question to ask: Who's going to keep a World Series title from the Tigers?

It wasn't the A's, the hottest team in baseball since the All-Star break. And it certainly wasn't the N.Y. Yankees, arguably the best-hitting team in the major leagues this season. Both were set down in relative order, and Thursday's American League pennant-clinching victory at Comerica Park — 8-1 over the Yankees before a jubilant sellout crowd of 42,477 — was simply another display of the true power of the Tigers.

At the plate? Sure. Miguel Cabrera, the Triple Crown king, launched a towering home run into the left-field seats, and a rejuvenated Jhonny Peralta soon followed with another in a four-run fourth inning as the Tigers pummeled Yankees ace CC Sabathia and pounded the Yankees into submission in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series.

But even those booming bats couldn't drown out the unmistakable backbeat of this Tigers' postseason. There was that distinctive "Thwap!" as pitch after pitch from starter Max Scherzer slammed into Gerald Laird's mitt, eluding feeble swings and eliciting now-familiar cheers — and some jeers, yes —as another starting pitcher turned the pinstripes into checked-swing plaid.

Back to the dugout, the Yankees went, again and again. And back to the bright lights and big embarrassment, they'll go now, swept out of the postseason for the first time since 1980 and only the fifth time in their storied franchise history.

And while it was the Tigers' offense —built around Cabrera and free-agent slugging first baseman Prince Fielder — that was held up as Exhibit A for the Tigers' playoff hopes back in April, we can now officially enter Exhibit K into the record. Because Detroit's dominant four-man rotation has become the biggest story of this baseball October.

Consider that in nine postseason games, the Tigers starters have allowed seven runs in 62 innings — good for a 1.02 ERA. Major League Baseball's postseason record for a starting rotation is 1.05, set by the 1920 Indians, according to STATS LLC.

Ridiculous rotation

Detroit's rotation of Justin Verlander, Doug Fister, Anibal Sanchez and Scherzer has allowed 25 hits while striking out 66 — a ridiculous ratio that's as responsible as any single statistic for this team heading to its 11th World Series, beginning Wednesday in either St. Louis or San Francisco (the Cardinals lead).

"They kept the pressure off us," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said.

And the longer they did, the easier it seemed to get for Detroit's own lineup, which erupted with 16 hits, including four home runs, in Thursday's clincher.

"With the zeros they were putting up, one or two runs was enough," said Delmon Young, the new Yankees killer — his eight RBIs outpaced New York's series total — who was named the Championship Series MVP.

Enough? I'll say. The Tigers starters finished the ALCS with a 0.66 ERA, second-lowest in a best-of-seven series. (The 1966 Orioles posted a 0.61 ERA in the World Series.) Detroit also became only the fifth team in major league history to post a four-game sweep without trailing in any game. I mean, just think about that, even if it's only for a New York minute.

And, Thursday, when it was finally Scherzer's turn to join the no-hit parade following Wednesday night's rainout, the 28-year-old ace-in-waiting hardly missed a beat. The hard-throwing right-hander struck out four of the first six batters he faced and carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning — matching his AL Division Series feat of a year ago — knowing full well he probably wouldn't be allowed to finish it.

Only a few starts removed from a dicey late-season shoulder injury, Scherzer was on an unofficial 100-pitch limit. And after allowing a pair of hits and a walk in the top of the sixth — Eduardo Nunez broke up the no-hitter with a leadoff triple to left field — Leyland pulled the plug on Scherzer's electric outing at 98 pitches. He left to a standing ovation with 10 strikeouts in 5.2 innings, tipped his cap to the appreciative crowd, then waited for it all to hold up.

Once it had, it was a far different feeling than one he was left a year ago, when Scherzer was chased early in the Game 6 loss in the ALCS in Texas that ended Detroit's season.

"I took that through the whole offseason — that really stung," he said. "And I've worked so hard, so that if I ever got this chance again I would come up huge."

He paused. And?

"And sure enough, I got this chance," he laughed. "And man, it is soooo sweet. It is so sweet that we're going to the World Series."

'Do your thing'

For Scherzer, the emotions of Thursday's celebration were impossible to hide, as he stood with his parents, Brad and Jan, while Tigers president Dave Dombrowski publicly saluted them while accepting the AL championship hardware.

It was back in June that the family was struck with the tragic death of Max's younger brother, Alex, 24, who took his own life.

There are no words to describe that kind of loss. But none were necessary Thursday, as Dombrowski made a point of bringing Scherzer the trophy as soon as he'd left the podium.

"He's enjoying it, and it's fun watching him," Brad Scherzer said, smiling at the scene and talking about his son's stellar performance down the stretch — 14-5 with a 2.54 ERA since the end of June.

"He just took off on his own," his father added. "He went and did his thing. I always kept saying, 'Max, do your thing.' And that's what he did. He got it in that zone and kept going."

That's what they're all doing, at the moment, and no one is enjoying it more than their pitching coach, Jeff Jones.

"I've never really seen anything like it," he said, shaking his head.

But if you ask Verlander, we ain't seen nothin' yet. When he was told Thursday night this team — and this starting staff, in particular — appeared to have saved its best for last, Verlander just smiled.

"It seems that way to me, too," he said, as fireworks exploded in the outfield.

But the best part, he reminded us, is still to come.

"This is fantastic," Verlander said, motioning to crowd, still roaring its approval, long after the final out. "But the ultimate goal is to win the World Series. This team is built to win a World Series. So let's go out and do it."

Twitter: @johnniyo

From The Detroit News:

“It takes pitching, hitting and defense. Any two can win. All three make you unbeatable.”    
–Joe Garagiola
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