'Mad' Max puts injuries aside, shoulders Game 4 responsibility

October 10, 2012, 10:03 pm
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Programming note: Tune in to SportsNet Central's A's October Quest tonight at 5:30pm on Comcast SportsNet California leading up to today's ALDS Game 4 in Oakland!

OAKLAND -- "Mad" Max Scherzer's eyes may be two different colors, but he can see his catcher's target plenty clear, especially when facing the Oakland A's.

Scherzer -- who sports a blue eye in his right socket and a brown in his left thanks to his case of heterochromia iridum of the eye -- has faced players on the A's current playoff roster in 40 at-bats, and the A's have collected 10 hits, only two of which went for extra bases. They have drawn five walks and been sent back to the dugout 19 times.

Despite his success against the A's, Scherzer did not want to face them Wednesday, wishing his team would close out the series in a sweep.

"I was the biggest cheerleader (Tuesday), hoping that we would win," Scherzer said. "It is a little bit weird not wanting to pitch."

Like it or not, he'll stare down the Athletics' lineup in Game 4. With just the best eight MLB teams remaining, there aren't very many easy outs left. And Scherzer knows that the A's lineup -- while unlikely so -- is no exception. Citing the speed at the top of the lineup, and the pop through its heart, the Tigers' starter is gearing up for a battle.

"It's going to present a challenge for me," Scherzer acknowledged.

Pitching in Oakland, surprisingly, might also present a challenge. Despite his solid numbers against the A's, Scherzer hasn't fared well in the pitcher-friendly confines of the Coliseum. In two career starts he is 1-1 with a 5.56 ERA, though he does have 17 strikeouts in 11 13 innings.

Getting strikeouts has never been a problem for Scherzer. If it weren't for teammate and reigning AL Cy Young Award winner and MVP Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer would have led all of baseball with 231 strikeouts this year.

RELATED: MLB strikeout leaders

It's not a good sign for the A's, who struck out an American League-record 1,387 times this season. Their 27 strike threes this postseason are second only to the Tigers' 28.

But the A's showed in Game 1 against Verlander that they can work pitches out of a tough pitcher, and Scherzer's ability to go deep in a game is questionable. If it's a bullpen game, it's working in the A's favor.

Scherzer's season was affected by injuries late. He had to leave his Sept. 18 start against the A's when his shoulder flared up after two innings; the muscle soreness in his right deltoid forced him to to miss his penultimate start of the season. Then he rolled his right ankle in the on-field celebration after the Tigers clinched their second consecutive AL Central title. He was able to make his final start of the regular season exactly one week ago, although he only made it through four innings and 75 pitches.

Despite the fragile shoulder and ankle, the 28-year old power righty doesn't expect his health to impact the most important start of his season. He threw a bullpen session on Monday and declared himself 100 percent, a sentiment he reiterated in his press conference on Tuesday.

"There shouldn't be any limitations," Scherzer insisted.

Scherzer's pitch count hasn't reached the century mark since his Sept. 12 start in the south side of Chicago, though he topped 100 pitches in 16 of his 17 prior starts. His heaviest workload came way back in June when he threw 122 times.

"He feels great," Tigers manager Jim Leyland echoed before shedding the first light on how Scherzer's pitch count will be handled. "How long he'll be able to go will have something to do with the Oakland hitters. We'll play that by ear. But health-wise, he's very healthy. He's a hundred percent. We'll monitor him close. But I expect him to be full bore, all out and the game will dictate how long he pitches."

While the claim is that health won't impact his performance, the raucous Oakland crowd might. The Tigers could do nothing but tip their collective cap to energy A's fans provided after Game 3, and the electric vibe did not escape a spectating Scherzer.

RELATED: Tigers tip hat to Oakland crowd

"That was probably the most rowdy atmosphere I've ever seen here, pretty much in any ballpark I've ever been in," Scherzer said. "From the first inning to the ninth inning, they were on their feet cheer for every pitch, every out. I give them a lot of kudos for the atmosphere they were able to provide."

Utilizing his power four-seam fastball, slider and changeup, Scherzer will do his best to silence the expected sellout. But after the improbable and empowering season the A's put together, hammering the nail in their coffin won't come easily.

"It's been a little freaky, to be honest with you," Leyland said. He wasn't talking about the A's season or Scherzer's mismatched eyes, he was talking about the 2012 playoffs as a whole. That the Oakland Athletics are a part of it is wild enough, that they have a chance to force a decisive Game 5 after dropping the first two ALDS games is the stuff you can't predict.

From Leyland, one of MLB's old souls and the winningest active manager in the league: "It's baseball and you never know how it's going to play out."

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