Commentary

Tigers need Max Scherzer to deliver

Right-hander must give Detroit a quality start in Game 2, or it could be a short ALCS

Originally Published: October 9, 2011
By Jim Caple | ESPN.com

ARLINGTON, Texas -- OK, so you think there is pressure on Detroit starter Max Scherzer on Sunday night? His Tigers lost Game 1 of the ALCS with their ace, Justin Verlander, on the mound. Scherzer will pitch on two days' rest after throwing 1 1/3 innings of relief in Game 5 of the Division Series against the Yankees. He had a 4.43 ERA during the regular season, and if he doesn't come up with a big start against one of the game's most potent offenses at what is certain to be a very loud Rangers Ballpark, his team could be down 2-0 in this series and heading back home with no guarantee that Verlander will even get to pitch again this year.

[+] EnlargeMax Scherzer
Patrick McDermott/Getty ImagesMax Scherzer has allowed one run in two outings -- spanning a total of 7 1/3 innings -- in this year's postseason.

But that's nothing compared to the pressure mounting on his opponent, Texas starter Derek Holland. The Rangers are growing playoff beards, a la hockey, and already several players are sufficiently hirsute to make Brian Wilson envious. Yet despite all his best efforts, Holland is stuck with the weakest mustache on any baseball player outside Williamsport.

"The pressure has been on him for months now,'' Rangers designated hitter Michael Young said. "He's trying hard. You have to give him credit. He's been growing that mustache for months. Literally months. It's hilarious.''

Holland estimated it would take him three years to grow a beard. He said he tried to grow one earlier this year and the result was "very bad.''

Hard to believe the beard didn't take, isn't it? After all, his mustache is soooooo impressive.

"He couldn't grow a beard if he wanted to,'' reliever Darren Oliver said. "He's too young. He's got that baby face. He's still trying to grow that little mustache of his. He's a big hockey guy. He wishes he could grow a beard. But he can pitch. That's all that matters.''

Holland was 16-5 with a 3.95 ERA in the regular season and he picked the Rangers up with a big victory in Game 2 of the Division Series after the Rays routed them 9-0 in the opener. That was a somewhat better performance than that of last year's postseason, when Holland had a 4.76 ERA in six relief appearances, including three runs over just one inning in the World Series.

To be able to go out there and help the team in a must-win game, this is as good as it gets.

-- Tigers pitcher Max Scherzer

"Last year I didn't really know what to expect, how to handle anything,'' Holland said. "I have a better idea, especially after being around with Cliff Lee, and then C.J. Wilson has been helping me big-time this year in how to handle myself as a starter. This year it's a big difference. I'm a lot more relaxed and I would say composed.''

Scherzer, meanwhile, is in a familiar position, after he started Game 2 of the Division Series in New York. Actually, last week's was an even more imposing situation. The Tigers not only lost Game 1 to the Yankees, because of the suspended game, they burned both Verlander and No. 2 starter Doug Fister in the process. Scherzer responded with six scoreless innings and the Tigers beat New York 5-3 to gain new life. He pitched again in short relief in Game 5 on three days' rest, though he gave up a run.

Because of that relief appearance, Detroit manager Jim Leyland was reluctant to use Scherzer in Game 2 of this ALCS, initially announcing that he would start Rick Porcello in that spot. Scherzer, however, talked Leyland out of it after playing catch Friday and determining that his arm was 100 percent.

"I didn't think we were going to be able to do that, to be honest with you, but he convinced me,'' Leyland said. "And Max, he's up front with everything. He would never mislead me in any way, shape or form.''

"To be able to go out there and help the team in a must-win game, this is as good as it gets,'' Scherzer said.

That's the attitude Scherzer needs because this really is a critical game for the Tigers. Verlander is the ace they turned to repeatedly during the season and losing Game 1 with him on the mound put them into a significant hole. They are without Delmon Young -- his absence from the lineup was very noticeable in the Game 1 loss -- which puts all the more premium on holding down the Rangers' lineup. If Scherzer doesn't, it will be Tigers fans, not Holland, who will be folliclely challenged from pulling their own hair out.

It may be early in the series, but to paraphrase Yogi Berra, it gets late early in the postseason.

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

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Senior Writer, ESPN.com