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BAL@DET: Scherzer wins seven-pitch battle vs. Davis

DETROIT -- Move over, Wabash George Mullin. Max Scherzer can't have your nickname, but he has designs on your record.

He can't have Rocket, either, but he can start being mentioned with his best start to a season, too.

With six innings of one-run ball in Monday's 5-1 Tigers victory over the O's, Scherzer not only became the first Major League starter since Roger Clemens in 1997 to go 10-0 to begin a season. He became just the second starter in the Tigers' illustrious history to do it, challenging the 104-year-old standard of Mullin.

Even Scherzer, an advanced stats fan who calls wins and losses "flukey," had to appreciate that kind of company.

"Yeah, you have to savor this a little bit because of the history of this organization," Scherzer said. "It's special to be 10-0. But at the end of the day, I don't measure my success on being 10-0. I measure my success on everything else I do on the mound."

Mullin began the 1909 season 11-0, according to Elias Sports Bureau, on his way to 29 wins. Clemens stood 11-0 after 12 starts in 1997 on his way to a 21-win campaign and a Cy Young Award in Toronto.

Scherzer, maybe supporting his fluke argument, would be at 11-0 now with six wins in a row if not for the Orioles' ninth-inning comeback off Jose Valverde on May 31 in Baltimore. But then, he might not have gotten to 10-0 without a big strikeout Monday.

Mullin had a big fastball and a nasty curve, according to reports. Scherzer had 98 mph on the outside corner to Chris Davis with the game on the line. When he couldn't get the call on that, he had the confidence to throw 97 mph just off the plate -- likely ball four, had Davis taken it -- to get a Triple Crown candidate to swing and miss.

Whether wins and losses are flukey, the way Scherzer got there Monday was not.

"You have one of the American League's best pitchers going up against one of the American League's best hitters of the time," manager Jim Leyland said. "That's a nice challenge for the fans, and tonight Max won the challenge."

Not since Pedro Martinez in 2001 has an American League pitcher started the season with at least 14 games of six or more strikeouts, according to ESPN Stats and Information. Scherzer's 10-strikeout performance was his fifth of the season.

Considering Scherzer didn't retire the O's in order in any of his six innings, many of those strikeouts came in handy.

Scherzer called his biggest pitch a 3-1 changeup to Nick Markakis that allowed him to set up a strikeout for the second out of the fifth inning, allowing him to pitch aggressively to escape. His catcher, who called the changeup to Markakis, wasn't buying it.

"I think [Davis] was the at-bat of the game, in my humble opinion," Brayan Pena said. "The fact that Davis got pretty good at-bats against us the previous two at-bats, for Max to strike him out with a fastball, that says a lot about Max."

Adam Jones' infield single set up Davis as the potential tying run. Davis had tagged a Scherzer fastball for his Major League-leading 24th homer of the year leading off the second inning, then shrugged off pitches off the corner to work the count in his favor for a single in the fourth.

With the game on the line, Scherzer flirted again with the outside corner after a swing and miss put Davis in a 1-2 count. Pena didn't have to move his mitt on back-to-back fastballs, lining up virtually in the same spot, but home-plate umpire Tim Timmons wasn't going to give him the call.

He came close.

"The 2-2 was the one," Pena said. "I turned around, not trying to show [Timmons] up, because I would never do that, but he screamed. He usually screams before he rings somebody up."

Scherzer didn't say a word.

"The thing is, when you're out on the mound and you hit the catcher's glove, you always think it's a strike," Scherzer said. "When you see it on video, the pitches were out. Sometimes they do a good job of calling them balls."

With the count full, Scherzer set up his best pitch, going with his changeup over the plate. Davis fouled it off.

"It just had enough movement on it," Davis said. "Of course, when you're throwing 96, 97, 98, that helps."

He knew what was coming next. Scherzer had no question. It was just a matter of placing it.

"My best pitch is my best fastball in that situation," Scherzer said. "If I was going to get beat, I was going to get beat on my best."

It was farther outside than the previous two fastballs, according to MLB.com's Gameday, but Davis wasn't taking a chance.

"It was a ball," Davis said. "When you're throwing that hard and you're throwing a number of pitches for strikes, you assume that he's going to throw a strike. I was looking for a ball over the plate. He got me to chase."

Scherzer struck out Davis, Markakis and Manny Machado, All-Star candidates all, in that inning. He fanned Machado twice on the night, and sent down designated hitter Chris Dickerson swinging three times. That's more how Scherzer measures his pitching.

"Pitching on four pitches, generating swings and misses, minimizing my walks, working ahead of hitters, all the other things it takes to be a good pitcher," Scherzer said.

Miguel Cabrera's 19th home run of the year, a two-run shot in the opening inning, gave Scherzer a lead to protect. Austin Jackson and Jhonny Peralta added two-out RBI singles along with Victor Martinez's sacrifice fly off Orioles spot starter Jake Arrieta (1-2).

Drew Smyly replaced Scherzer in the seventh and went the rest of the way for his second save of three or more innings this season.

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