August 14, 2014 at 6:49 pm

Tigers 5, Pirates 2

Max Scherzer dazzles as Tigers beat Pirates again

Detroit — Finally, just a feel-good victory — with no disappointing road trips, possible injuries or chin flicks attached.

It’s been a while.

The Tigers certainly needed a game after which they could spend their time talking just about what went right.

Such as Max Scherzer’s 14 strikeouts and 14th win in Thursday’s 5-2 victory over Pittsburgh.

Such as the way the Tigers tacked on three runs in the eighth, two of them on a two-out single by Nick Castellanos, to withstand the two the Pirates countered with in the ninth.

Such as J.D. Martinez making a fine catch at the wall in left as well as breaking the ice with a leadoff home run in the fifth — not just the Tigers’ first run, but their first hit.

“The silence in the dugout immediately went away at that point,” manager Brad Ausmus said.

Such as Torii Hunter and Ian Kinsler also make web-gem caliber plays.

Such as the life returning to Ausmus’ postgame voice, because his team did far more good things than bad.

And such as (saving the best for last), the way Scherzer feels about himself and his team at this point.

It’s mid-August — and Scherzer is 14-4 after 25 starts. He was outstanding while blanking the Pirates on three hits for eight innings while coming within one of a career best for most strikeouts in a game.

When Scherzer had eight K’s through three innings, Ausmus thought back to May 6, 1998, when he was in Houston’s lineup the day Kerry Wood of the Cubs struck out 20.

“It was looking similar,” Ausmus said.

In that game, Wood had six strikeouts in the first three innings, including the first of the two times Ausmus fanned.

Wood got stronger that day, striking out the side in the seventh and eighth. But Scherzer started stronger.

And he started stronger because he’s feeling even stronger after 25 starts this season than he felt after 25 last season — when he was 18-1 at this point.

Does that bode well — or does that bode well?

With eight starts remaining, and needing six wins for his second consecutive 20-win season, it’s clear that such an accomplishment can’t be ruled out.

For one thing, winning six games in eight starts is something he’s already done this season.

He won all six of his starts from April 19 to May 16.

But more than the numbers, more than the math involved, it’s about how Scherzer is feeling as the Tigers approach the home stretch of the season.

Instead of winding down, he’s revving up. And he genuinely feels the best is yet to come for the Tigers.

“Coming off these last two starts, and where I’m at,” Scherzer said, “I’m a better pitcher than I was last year. That was my mind-set coming into this season; I was going to be a better pitcher than I was last year.

“Take all the numbers, throw them out, if you look at how I’m pitching, I’m executing all my pitches at a higher level.

“It has taken until the second half to get everything in sync, but I’ve gotten to where I’m better than I was last year (when he won the American League’s Cy Young Award).”

After his 25th start last year, Scherzer went 3-2 with a 3.21 ERA in his last seven starts. Without saying so, it’s clear he feels poised for a better finish than that.

“I feel great,” he said. “My arm is healthy — and these games are huge now for the rest of the season.”

The Tigers will tell you it doesn’t concern them that they’re in second place at this point. The confidence they have in themselves indicates how they envision the race turning out.

“We realize we’re in a fight,” Scherzer said, “but that doesn’t change our belief that if we come to play, we’re going to win this.

“With complete respect for the other teams in our division, I believe we have the talent to get it done. We just have to play our game, bring our best every single day — and let’s go win the American League Central.”

The Tigers’ bullpen wasn’t masterful what with Gaby Sanchez’s two-run home run off Phil Coke in the ninth.

Although he was warming up in the eighth when the lead was two runs, Joe Nathan wasn’t called upon a day after he twice chin-flicked the fans.

“Clearly an inappropriate gesture,” Ausmus said of the incident. “I talked to Joe. He’s completely embarrassed by it.”

Meanwhile the Tigers didn’t have an easy time against Francisco Liriano (3-9) – whom Ausmus once thought of “as the nastiest left-handed pitcher I’d ever faced.”

As a right-hander, some of the Pirates are probably thinking the same thing about Scherzer.

tgage@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/Tom_Gage

Tigers pitcher Max Scherzer tossed eight shutout innings Thursday. / Robin Buckson / Detroit News