October 19, 2013 at 1:00 am

Bob Wojnowski

Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander are Tigers' last chance, but they'll take it

Justin Verlander, left, will take his best shot at the Red Sox at Fenway in Game 7 if Max Scherzer, right, can beat them in Game 6. (Robin Buckson / Detroit News)

Boston It looks dire, sure. One slugger is ailing, the other is flailing. The Tigers are back in frightful Fenway Park with their season in peril, down 3-2, and that would be enough to shake any team.

Shaken? Yes. But also stirred? In the immediate aftermath of their 4-3 loss to the Red Sox in Game 5, amid the talk of basepath gaffes and ill-timed swings, the Tigers clung to the stirring specter of Scherlander. Thats Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander, who have taken turns being dominant and are up next. To have any chance at a second chance, it starts with Scherzer today, and while the Tigers dont like their deficit, they have to like the matchups.

This isnt just the old axiom that pitching wins in the playoffs. Actually, the Tigers have squandered Scherlanders two outings this series. This is about who has the most left to give, who is accustomed to the heat, and who craves the moment.

Lets be honest here. Miguel Cabrera may crave the moment, but he doesnt have a lot left to give. His groin and abdominal injuries have robbed him of leg strength, power and mobility, which led to that fateful out at home plate in Game 5.

Prince Fielder should have plenty left to give, but we havent seen it. He doesnt have a home run or an RBI this postseason and was booed after two groundouts in Game 5. In the short term, his reputation in Detroit is under fire. Thats what the playoff glare does, and Fielder has to handle it better.

The glare can singe, and also illuminate. Scherzer has been fully illuminated all season, a smart, competitive tactician who went 21-3 and will win the Cy Young. In Game 2 against the Red Sox, he pitched seven innings of two-hit ball and struck out 13. The Red Sox famously won on David Ortizs grand slam off Joaquin Benoit, but they didnt solve Scherzer, and they didnt solve Verlander the next game.

Knowing his limits

The second outing against the same team is when it really gets tough, and Scherzer knows hell have to mix things up to be effective. Few players mix it up as well as the Tigers top pitchers, capable of turning dire into dramatic.

Id take my chances with those guys, Torii Hunter said of Scherlander. If I had to go in some back alley, Id take those guys with me.

The Tigers arent winning many street-fight slugfests, not with their lineup these days. So theyll try to win in a more-familiar way. In his last outing, Scherzer was pulled by Jim Leyland after 108 pitches with the Tigers leading 5-1, and it seemed to be a prudent move. Scherzer also said he was spent, and there wasnt much disagreement from Leyland.

That was an early game in a long series, with the Tigers holding a sizable lead. Tonight against Red Sox starter Clay Buchholz, I imagine limits will be pushed. Scherzer is an introspective guy who knows his arm better than anyone, and he knows hell have to adjust against the Red Sox hitters.

Theyre gonna break down the film and look at my patterns and try to figure me out, Scherzer said. So I gotta be ahead of the curve and do something different. You know how your arm feels when you reach 80, 90, 100, 110 pitches. But when you have a win-or-go-home type game, youre going to pitch as long as you can. I have to be smart enough to know when that limit is.

Pressure can swallow a player whole this time of year, and so can ailments. Catcher Alex Avila twisted his left knee in a home-plate collision and left the game, but hopes to be ready today. Cabrera is accepting no offers of sympathy for his injuries, saying simply, No time to feel sorry about how youre feeling.

Outside the law

Would the offense be more productive if Cabrera wasnt hobbled? Probably. Its a major reason the two highest-scoring teams in baseball have sparred in low-scoring duels, and it certainly has contributed to the Tigers three one-run losses.

If its tight again this weekend, it wouldnt surprise anyone, certainly not Scherzer.

You have two of the best teams going at it, there is no edge, Scherzer said. Sometimes when you have two pitchers and its supposed to be this magnificent pitching duel, its a high-scoring game. And then you have two high-scoring offenses and its a pitching matchup. Baseball is the most incredible game. Itll always be the opposite, kind of like Murphys Law.

Im not sure Murphys Law what can go wrong, will applies here. Or maybe it does, because the Tigers have pitched well enough to lead the series, if not for some staggering breakdowns.

They have no room for error and no time for Murphys or any other laws. It ends here or it starts here, and they think they have the guys who can handle it.

I dont get caught up in the hoopla of having extra pressure on the line, Scherzer said. I choose to ignore it. Im not gonna be fazed by the magnitude of the situation.

He said that after Game 2, before the magnitude grew. Now its here, heavier than ever. From dire to dangerous to potentially dominant, its the last-gasp path for the Tigers, and theyll take their chances with it.

Bob.wojnowski@detroitnews.com
Twitter.com/bobwojnowski