Chicago — Among other moments and events from a season that hasn’t always made sense for the Tigers was Saturday’s first game of a day-night doubleheader at U.S. Cellular Field.
Max Scherzer struck out 11 batters in 62⁄3 innings. He looked, apart from the scoreboard, as if he intended to nab his 16th victory and maybe even another Cy Young Award trophy for an Arizona home that has room for extra hardware.
But after he struck out four in the first two innings, and just as it looked as if his 3-1 lead over Chris Sale and the White Sox would morph into the Tigers’ third consecutive victory, Scherzer got walloped in the third. He took a break from his fastball. He threw a couple of breaking pitches that sailed into the seats, and with that, a ballgame he and the Tigers thought they would win instead ended up in a non-contender’s pocket as the White Sox triumphed, 6-3.
“I had great stuff,” said Scherzer, who couldn’t quite believe anymore than Saturday’s civilian analysts how he and the Tigers lost. “I struck out 11 and didn’t walk anyone, and that means you’re doing things right.
“But I got beat on a couple of pitches. It only takes a couple of pitches to get beat, and today was evident.”
The pitches Scherzer would love to arrest and prosecute for misrepresentation of a Tigers ace were a pair of high curveballs. Adam Dunn got one in the upper latitudes of his strike zone in the third that he sledgehammered into the right-field seats for a two-run homer in the third. An inning later, Tyler Flowers got a first-pitch hanger that Flowers knocked into the left-field bleachers.
“The idea was right,” Scherzer said of his fat pitch to Dunn. “It was a 2-1 count, we had the shift on, and he was supposed to hit the curve into that shift. But it was too elevated and he got it.”
Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said: “Throwing a curveball to Adam Dunn is not a bad selection. He just needs to throw it more down (in the strike zone).”
In any event, it wasn’t Scherzer’s sole regret. He reflected that the curveball to Flowers “really stinks” as he also explained why a man with a fastball the White Sox weren’t exactly timing could not live by his fastball, alone.
“You have to have a sequence or a plan,” said Scherzer, whose five earned runs allowed moved his ERA to 3.26 from 3.13. “For the most part, I was executing the sequence fine.”
Of course, early in Saturday’s first game, Sale could have made the same self-critique, regretting a couple of pitches the Tigers smoked on their way to a 3-0 lead.
Ian Kinsler slammed a leadoff homer against Sale to put the Tigers on top, 1-0, in the first. Torii Hunter followed with a single, and with one out, Victor Martinez hoisted a Sale slider into the left-center field seats for a 3-0 lead and his 27th homer of the season.
It was all the Tigers were going to extract from Sale on a day he had 13 strikeouts. Ater the first inning, Sale allowed only three more hits.
But it wasn’t the whole story. The Tigers, for all their whiffs, hit a fair amount of balls hard, and far, which landed in the White Sox’s mitts. One painful sequence for Ausmus and Co. came in the fourth. Eugenio Suarez hit a deep drive to center that Tigers antagonist Adam Eaton hauled in — one batter before Kinsler lined out to left.
“I know we struck out a bunch of times,” Ausmus said. “But I think you’ll be hard-pressed to find a game Chris Sale pitched this year where there were as many hard-hit balls.”
But they never amounted to runs, nor to any serious comeback notions, as the Tigers lost a game they had only a few hours to digest. That’s because the evening half of their Saturday doubleheader was set for 7:10 p.m. (Detroit time). It was not anticipated to be on quite the level of Scherzer-Sale. Rather, two rookies, in the minor leagues only a couple of days ago, were set to start for the first time in the bigs: Kyle Ryan for the Tigers, and Chris Bassitt for the White Sox.
A slightly fewer number of strikeouts than the 24 amassed by Scherzer-Sale was expected.