Scherzer dominates Pirates to win No. 14
DETROIT -- The Pittsburgh Pirates had not faced Max Scherzer in more than two years. They're in no rush to see the Detroit Tigers ace again after his overpowering performance on Thursday afternoon.
Scherzer struck out a season-high 14 batters and collected his American League-leading 14th victory as the Tigers defeated the Pirates 5-2 at Comerica Park.
"He pitched like a Cy Young Award winner," Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle said. "There's 29 other teams that would take him and put him at the top of the rotation."
Scherzer (14-4), the AL's reigning Cy Young winner, out-dueled Francisco Liriano while coming up one strikeout shy of his career high. He racked up 15 strikeouts against the Pirates on May 20, 2012, and had another quality start against them on June 23 of that year.
Scherzer, who has struck out 10 or more batters six times this season and 24 times in his career, didn't give up a run on three hits in eight innings. He piled up eight strikeouts in the first three innings and had at least one in every inning.
"I just know if I can attack the zone and put them in a defensive position, get to those 1-2 counts and kill zone counts, I have the stuff to be able to put you away," Scherzer said. "Even when you have early success, you can't let up off the gas. You have to be relentless and keep attacking the zone."
Scherzer threw a season-high 121 pitches but didn't give up a hit after the fourth inning. He will get an extra day of rest in-between starts due to an off-day on Monday.
"When you know you have that extra day, you can afford to go deeper in the game and push your pitch count a little bit higher," said Scherzer, whose previous high was 118. "I know they had some runners in scoring position but I had only gone to the well a few times."
Left fielder J.D. Martinez drove in Detroit's first two runs with a solo home run and a bases-loaded walk. Third baseman Nick Castellanos added a two-run single for the Tigers (65-54), who have won two straight but still trail Kansas City by a half-game in the Central Division. The Royals beat the Oakland Athletics 7-3 Thursday afternoon.
Pinch hitter Gaby Sanchez hit a two-run homer off reliever Phil Coke in the ninth for the Pirates (64-57). Liriano (3-9) allowed two runs and three hits in six innings while recording nine strikeouts.
Martinez ended a scoreless deadlock with his fifth-inning leadoff homer, the first hit allowed by Liriano.
"Any time you hit a homer, it feels good," said Martinez, who was batting .163 in August before his two-hit game on Thursday. "I was just happy to be able to crack Liriano and get into him, get the team going and give Max that cushion."
Detroit made it 2-0 in the sixth on Martinez's two-out, bases-loaded walk, forcing in center fielder Rajai Davis, who had a leadoff double.
"Frank pitched another very good ballgame," Hurdle said of Liriano. "He was very effective against a very good hitting team. That walk in-between swing and miss strikeouts, it kind of got away from him for that one batter. But he gave us the outing we needed to have a shot."
The Tigers added three two-out insurance runs off reliever Brandon Cumpton in the eighth. Cabrera scored from second base on second baseman Michael Martinez's throwing error after a J.D. Martinez infield single. Castellanos followed with his two-run single to center.
NOTES: Pittsburgh shortstop Jordy Mercer left the game in the seventh inning with right forearm tightness. ... Tigers RHP Joe Nathan apologized on Thursday morning for making two obscene gestures toward the fans after his outing on Wednesday. Nathan, the team's closer, was booed when he walked the first two batters he faced in the ninth inning but did not allow a run in the 8-4 victory. "Hearing it the whole inning just got the better of me and my frustration came out," said Nathan, who has a 5.11 ERA with six blown save opportunities. "It was bad on both parts. Frustration came out on both sides and I apologize to the fans and apologize to my kids and I will be better." ... Pittsburgh 2B Neil Walker, who has been battling lower back tightness throughout the month, went through a full workout on Thursday and was available to pinch hit. Walker's last at-bat was a pinch-hitting appearance on Saturday. ... Pittsburgh's 118 runs scored since the All-Star break entering the game was the second most in the majors behind Oakland's 120. ... Tigers RHP Buck Farmer, who got a no-decision while pitching five innings his major-league debut on Wednesday, was optioned to Triple A Toledo. RHP Melvin Mercedes was recalled from the Mud Hens.