It’s a little one: Roger Clemens (who did it twice), Kerry Wood, Randy Johnson and, now, Scherzer.
Scherzer was so dominant in this game, his fastball moving, the Detroit Tigers watching it started thinking about this way too early. After all, he had two no hitters last year, striking out 17 in one of those no hitters. He had another game in which he allowed one hit and struck out 16.
He had 13 strikeouts through six innings. It was possible. He was sitting not too high of a pitch count, at 77 pitches. That’s the key. Just the other day I theorized why nobody had challenged the 20-strikeout record since Johnson did it in 2001, even though there are more strikeouts than ever. The primary reason? Pitch counts. It takes a lot of pitches to strike out 20 batters. In Clemens’ second 20-strikeout game, 151 pitches were thrown by him.
But Scherzer was dominant and efficient. With two on and one out, in the seventh, he struck out James McCann on three pitches and then got Anthony Gose swinging on a 2 -2 changeup. In the eighth, he struck out the side on 13 pitches — freezing Ian Kinsler on a 96-mph fastball down the middle.
Scherzer understood he was pursuing history. “I think it was the eighth inning,” he said in his postgame TV interview. “I hit somebody out and they said 18, and I knew I had a chance at 20.”
The ninth inning was not simple.
Up stepped his former teammate with the Tigers, Miguel Cabrera. Scherzer talked about the regard he had for Cabrera and the Tigers’ lineup. Cabrera fanned on a 97-mph fastball.
Victor Martinez singled to left. Dusty Baker left him in. Perhaps a new-school coach goes to his bullpen that point. After all, there is a game to win. Dusty is old-school, my friends.
Justin Upton fouled off two pitches and then whiffed on a slider as Scherzer tied the record.
Scherzer had a chance to establish the record for nine innings. It was up to McCann, who’d seen 10 pitches and fanning three times. McCann had maybe the best at bat of his life, hitting a weak grounder to third base. In his 20-strikeout game, Clemens also had a chance at a 21st strikeout. Scherzer’s 33 swings-and-misses were the second most in the past 15 seasons (Clayton Kershaw had 35 in a game last September). He got the Tigers to chase 19 pitches out of the zone. Eleven of the 20 K’s came on fastballs, five on sliders and four on changeups.
Not bad for a pitcher who’d been struggling with his fastball command and coming off a four-homer game.
After the match, Scherzer said it was all about his fastball. “The fastball really worked for me,” he said, pointing out that Stephen Strasburg had said that pitch would work against the Tigers’ lineup. And no way was he going to run out of petrol in the ninth. “I had everything left in the tank,” he said. “When you’ve got something like that going for it, you have all the fans up there, standing on their feet, making a lot of noise, that is all the adrenaline you need.”