Max Scherzer's dance with death, pitch by pitch

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

You probably wouldn't be here if Ralph Terry threw a curveball instead of a slider to Bill Mazeroski. Sorry for getting all freshman philosophy on you, but it's true. That one pitch changed the lives of people at the park, and it changed the lives of people 10,000 miles away. Traffic patterns, personal interactions, weather patterns ... everything's different because of that one pitch.

Individual pitches are pretty danged important. What Neftali Feliz threw to Lance Berkman, the movement of Mariano Rivera's pitch to Bill Mueller ... baseball is always millimeters away from being a deleted scene.

On Tuesday, Max Scherzer was a setup man. He was not a very good setup man for three batters, and then he turned into the very best setup man. With a one-run lead, Scherzer loaded the bases with no outs (with the last runner coming via an intentional walk). A fly ball would have tied the game. A double-play grounder would have tied the game. Scherzer needed strikeouts.

You're reading this because Scherzer got strikeouts. And in 2058, everything will be different because of it. It's like a big ol' episode of Sliders, but with more sliders.

Actually, Scherzer didn't throw any sliders. He threw two different types of pitches, and 29 pitches in the inning. The last 17 got him out of the inning and kept the Tigers' season alive. Here are screenshots of those last 17 pitches

Batter #1: Josh Reddick

Pitch #1 - fastball, 95 m.p.h. (called strike)


Scherzer and Alex Avila's plan was to get ahead with the fastball. It's hard to overemphasize the importance of a first-pitch strike to Reddick in a bases-loaded situation. And because left-handed people are unnatural and weird, umpires tend to call pitches like this a strike. So far, so good. Scherzer was ahead in the count.

Pitch #2 - fastball, 96 m.p.h. (ball)


A little farther outside than the first one, but still a good pitch. And a good take by Reddick, who could easily have been up 2-0 after this pitch. Imagine the restraint it takes to see a fastball in a situation like that and take it. Reddick was looking for something in.

Pitch #3 - fastball, 95 m.p.h. (ball)


This one wasn't hard to take. Scherzer was getting weird with his release point.

Pitch #4 - fastball, 94 m.p.h. (ball)


Also easy to take. And this is why Jim Leyland was crazy to load the bases with no outs. When a pitcher falls behind, he loses all leverage. He loses all of his options. And he loses the trust of the umpires, too, until he gets to a 3-0 count.

Now Reddick was in a 3-1 count and one ball could tie the game. I'd wager he was sitting on one pitch, one location.

Pitch #5 - fastball, 95 m.p.h. (foul)


Reddick got it. It wasn't right over the plate, but it was close enough. And he put a good swing on it.

This is the difference between Scherzer right now and Scherzer in five years. His stuff is so amazing, that he can get away with a 3-1 fastball over the plate to a dead-fastball hitter. It was thrown just fast enough, placed just well enough. In 2018, that ball will go 440 feet. Right now, it'll do.

About five minutes ago, I was listening to the A's flagship radio station. A caller was talking about how Bob Melvin blew it, how the A's needed a hitter to make contact and how they had Alberto Callaspo on the bench.

Maybe. As far as talk-radio callers go, it was a good point. But look at that still up there. That's how close Josh Reddick was to being a hero.

Pitch #6 - fastball, 95 m.p.h. (foul)


Possibly a worse pitch, but Reddick didn't put as good of a swing on it, starting a little late.

Still, when you hear or read about the mythology of Max Scherzer, remember these last two pitches. If the Tigers win Game 5 and advance to the ALCS or World Series, or if they win the whole danged thing, this bases-loaded/no-out situation is going to be one of those moments. It'll be remembered by Tigers fans for years. Heck, even if the Tigers lose Game 5, this inning will still be a part of Tigers lore.

But that pitch up there is the kind you'll see in a regular game and think, "Well, you can't throw it there." There will be a home run, the telecast will show you the replay, and you'll think, "Seriously. Can't throw it there."

Scherzer threw it there. And he got away with it because his fastball is awesome, don't discount that. This isn't a note to suggest that Scherzer was lucky and only lucky. His natural talent was the biggest part of the story. But he'll throw pitches like that and not get away with it, even in the middle of a Cy Young season.

After this pitch, Dennis Eckersley said, "You have to go after him with the fastball." Buck Martinez agreed. After Reddick couldn't do much with that last fastball, would you disagree?

Alex Avila disagreed.

Pitch #7 - changeup, 85 m.p.h. (swinging strike)


Fastball!


Aw, nerts.

People are giving Reddick all kinds of guff for this swing. It was the swing of a hitter convinced he was getting a fastball, and it came against a pitcher who will throw any thing in any count.

But I would have been looking fastball, too. Scherzer was on the ropes, and he was all fastballs after getting there. He rocked when he should have scissored.

Stephen Vogt

Pitch #1 - fastball, 96 m.p.h. (foul)


There was nuance in that last at-bat. A power pitcher going against a power hitter. There was no nuance in this at-bat. Here's Stephen Vogt late on a fastball.

Pitch #2 - fastball, 96 m.p.h. (foul)


Here's Stephen Vogt late on another fastball.

Pitch #3 - changeup, 85 m.p.h. (foul)


Now Scherzer's just being a jerk.


This is how a Scherzer at-bat is supposed to look. Make him genuflect to the fastball, and then abuse him with the offspeed. Vogt barely ticked a seam. But he ticked it enough to stay alive.

Pitch #4 - fastball, 98 m.p.h. (swinging strike)


Take my word for it. It was a swinging strike. Vogt was so worried about the changeup -- and the previous pitch was the best change Scherzer threw all game --that he was completely locked up by the fastball.

Again, a flyball would have tied the game. But Scherzer was a bully in this at-bat.

Alberto Callaspo

Pitch #1 - fastball, 96 m.p.h. (foul)

Back to the talk-radio caller from earlier. He has a point. In a situation where a double play can score the tying run, don't you have to use Callaspo earlier in the inning?

Dunno. This season, Callaspo had 24 at-bats with a runner on third and fewer than two outs. Reddick had 25. Callaspo drove in 16 runs in that situation. Reddick drove in ...16 runs. Small samples, sure, but it's easy to overstate the abilities of high-contact players in this situation.

At any rate, Callaspo still had the best at-bat of the inning. This was a foul ball that was maybe five feet from clearing the bases.


That's a good oh-no face. And another reminder that while Scherzer is one of the best pitchers in the world, he was ------------------- that close from being a goat.

Pitch #2 - changeup, 84 m.p.h. (ball)


Not a good one. But Callaspo's body language suggests he's looking outside. That wasn't that far in, but Callaspo is jackknifing away.

Pitch #3 - fastball, 96 m.p.h. (foul)


Another good swing on a hittable pitch, but Scherzer got ahead in the count.

Pitch #4 - fastball, 97 m.p.h.

Not a strike, and it wasn't as close as it looks there.

Pitch #5 - changeup, 87 m.p.h.


At this point, Stephen Vogt is yelling things from the dugout. That's not the change that Vogt saw.

Pitch #6 - fastball, 95 m.p.h.


Finally, finally, finally, Callaspo got the pitch he wanted. It was a fastball on the outside, and it was up just a bit. It wasn't a meatball down the middle, but if a cagey player like Callaspo is looking for a pitch on that half, it's kinda like a meatball.

It was a line-drive out.

I'm not sure how much all of this mattered considering the Tigers scored three runs in the bottom of the eighth. But if Callaspo's ball drops between outfielders, it's Grant Balfour instead of Brett Anderson, and ...

That's the story of how the Tigers won Game 4. If the A's win on Thursday, it isn't going to make a lick of difference. But if the Tigers win, it's one of those wins. It'll be the kind that old-timers tell youngsters around a campfire. Let me tell you about the time Max Scherzer got out of a bases-loaded/no-out jam in the playoffs. It took a little good fortune. It took a golden arm. And it took about three years off the average Tigers fan's life. But it was a part of the best playoff game this season, and it's hard to see how it'll be topped.

For more on Scherzer and the Tigers, please visit Bless You Boys

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