Detroit — For all that he’s accomplished in this game — three Cy Young Awards, six All-Star appearances, 2,605 strikeouts and counting — there is still a spot of emptiness in the pit of Max Scherzer's stomach from what he didn’t accomplish during his five seasons with the Tigers.
“That honestly feels like one of my biggest regrets,” Scherzer said to a big group of reporters before Friday's game. “That we weren’t able to deliver a World Series championship here.”
Scherzer, who on Sunday will make his first start at Comerica Park since he signed with Washington after the 2014 season, posted an 82-35 record with a 3.52 ERA and 1.19 WHIP with the Tigers from 2010 through 2014.
He was 21-3 with a sub-1 WHIP and won his first Cy Young in 2013. And he pitched well in the Tigers’ four playoff runs, too. But each of those years ended in disappointment.
“Talking with Anibal (Sanchez, his Nationals teammate who got the start Friday), we all kick ourselves," Scherzer said. "It’s like, ‘Man, how did we not win a World Series when we were here?’ The teams that we had here, especially in that three-year run between 12-13-14.
“You play the games of ‘What if?’ still to this day.”
Scherzer, who will come into his start on Sunday with a 2.52 ERA and a league-high 156 strikeouts in 114.1 innings, is trying to push the Nationals over the same postseason hump.
“That’s also what keeps me motivated,” he said. “We failed in some ways in our eyes, even though we had great teams and did a lot of great things. But we didn’t win the whole thing. You do have to kind of see it as a failure in some ways, because that’s what keeps you motivated.
“That’s what motivates me to push myself every single day to try to win a World Series. That’s what I play the game for. That’s what keeps me going.”
Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire remembered, as the Twins’ skipper, coming to Detroit and having to face Scherzer, Sanchez and Justin Verlander.
“I had a lot of guys with the flu when he was pitching,” Gardenhire joked. “They come in a little sick with Scherzeritis. It was never an easy test with any of those guys they had pitching. Scherzer is like a lightning bolt. His stuff is electric.”
It’s remarkable to think that Scherzer has put another five years and nearly 1,000 more innings (992.2) on his now 34-year-old arm, and yet the velocity and crispness on all his pitches is the same as it was when he was wearing the English 'D.'
His fastball still sits between 94-95 mph, and he can ramp it up to 96-97 when he needs it. He has a 36 percent strikeout rate and a 30.5 percent whiff rate with the heater. The slider has been virtually unhittable, too — .194 opponents’ average, 42 percent strikeout rate and an absurd 50.5 percent swing and miss rate.
“I strive to get better every single year,” Scherzer said. “As I’ve gone on to Washington, I’ve continued to add to my arsenal, continued to work with our coaches and our catchers. The different guys who’ve come through my time in Washington have continued to grow as well.
“That’s something I’ve been fortunate with, to have good teammates and good coaches in Washington. That process is never ending.”
Scherzer has grown as a leader, too, something he was reluctant to do in a veteran-laden Tigers clubhouse.
“The easiest way to go back to it is that we had such great clubhouse leadership with the players and how they went about their business,” he said. “The easiest guy to always point to is Torii Hunter and how he was a clubhouse leader and how he just did Torii Hunter things every single time.
“The valuable lessons of leadership I learned from him specifically, of how he just found a way to keep everybody on the same page and motivated and having a good time. I think the one thing we often forget is how much fun we get to have every single day. He always made sure he had fun.”
Sunday will be Scherzer’s first game back on the Comerica Park mound — where he went 46-13 with a 3.32 ERA, with 506 strikeouts in 485.1 innings — but it’s not the first time he’s faced his former team.
You might remember a night in the nation’s capital in 2016 when he struck out 20 Tigers.
“It was weird,” he said of walking back into the stadium Friday. “It was definitely weird coming down the path and having to turn to the right to the visiting clubhouse and come out on the first-base line. It’s a different look coming in from this side of the park.
“I have great memories here. It was kind of weird but kind of awesome at the same time.”
Scherzer’s decision to sign a $210 million multi-year contract with the Nationals after the 2014 season ruffled some feathers in the Tigers’ front office, specifically those of late owner Mike Ilitch, who had reportedly offered Scherzer a deal worth $144 million.
Scherzer, though, never took any of that personally.
“That’s just the business side,” he said. “I didn’t feel slighted. That stuff just all takes care of itself. I don’t hold any grudges or anything like. When I look back on my time in Detroit, I have great memories here and great friends.
“That’s how I remember it.”