Thursday night, the Detroit Tigers badly needed a win. They had been tattooed in Chicago, allowing a combined 14 runs between the series' first two games.
The offense, meanwhile, wasn't doing enough to compensate for the erratic pitching totals, scoring only two runs the night before and failing to get a clutch hit in the series opener to deliver Detroit a late victory.
Despite that, regardless of the fact that the White Sox' own ace Chris Sale was on the mound, none of that mattered Thursday, because Detroit got a virtuoso performance from Max Scherzer, who may have finally evolved into the stopper for a staff that badly needs one this season.
Justin Verlander used to be that guy, but he cannot be counted on. Anibal Sanchez has potential, but hasn't completely, consistently stepped up, either. Enter Scherzer, who took the mound with a ferocity unseen on Thursday night.
For the first four innings, he kept Chicago–and their mighty slugger Jose Abreu–hitless. The first runner that reached base did so via error. In the process, Scherzer blew away the White Sox' hitters, helping keep Detroit's 1-0 lead afloat.
When the Tigers added insurance in the eighth and ninth innings, Scherzer immediately put it to good use, collecting two strikeouts in his final two innings pitched. He went the distance for his first career complete game, and it was a beauty. Three hits, no runs, eight strikeouts.
Finally, a Detroit pitcher had stepped up and delivered a big time performance when they had to. After a three week string of ugly starts, zeros were what the Tigers needed, and that's what Scherzer provided in loud fashion.
There may no longer be a question of who's the Tigers' ace in 2014. With every erratic Verlander start, every inconsistent performance from Rick Porcello and Drew Smyly and every Sanchez start doomed by an elevated pitch count, Scherzer might be the only one capable of grabbing the ball and mowing down an opposing lineup.
Detroit now needs him to turn this trick consistently. It might be the only thing helping the team through the peaks and valleys which have persisted. It would be a win-win for both parties, as Scherzer could finally look like the big money ace he hasn't been in 2014, while helping the Tigers improve upon their problems and perhaps round back into form.
As it relates to helping the Tigers out of their funk, Scherzer's commanding performance was a loud, fantastic start. Now, it's up to him to run with the stopper role and make big performances a habit again.
Max DeMara is the editor of @tigers_101. Follow the site there on Twitter, or like it on Facebook to connect with him.
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