BOSTON -- It's one thing to nearly get no-hit in the opener of the ALCS. Imagine what it's like to do so knowing you now face the probable Cy Young winner followed by the 2011 Cy Young winner. As Detroit Tigers closer Joaquin Benoit said, "I would try not to have nightmares."
So the Boston Red Sox can be forgiven if they spent their Saturday night/Sunday morning tossing and turning in bed while dreaming of walking up to the plate wearing nothing but Annie Savoy's garter belt to face Sidd Finch heat, Bugs Bunny breaking balls and a Leslie Nielsen mooonwalking umpire ringing them up with a strike zone wider than Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera standing side-by-side.
Because after going hitless against Anibal Sanchez and striking out 17 times in a 1-0 loss in Game 1 Saturday night, Boston now faces Max Scherzer in Game 2 and Justin Verlander in Game 3. Scherzer was 21-3 with a 2.90 ERA and 240 strikeouts during the regular season and won two games in the division series (once in relief). Verlander struck out 217 batters, hasn't allowed a run in 15 innings this postseason and hasn't allowed a run in his past 29 innings overall.
As a whole, the Tigers staff struck out a major league record 1,428 batters this season. Granted, strikeouts have risen significantly in recent years, but an all-time record is still impressive.
"When you have good stuff, that equates to strikeouts. We just have a whole team with great stuff. That's why we set the strikeout record. It's not like we go out there competing for who can strike out the most guys. That's not the way we go about it."
"We all know that we work together, and we try to have a feel for the hitters," Scherzer said of being part of Detroit's Big Three. "When you watch somebody -- Verlander, Sanchez -- you can see how they attack the hitters, they might do something different than you do. And they might change speeds in a different way than you might have thought. And when you can see them being successful in those situations, there's times you want to emulate that and take that and add it to your game. That's the benefit of being on this team."
Then again, as Tigers manager Jim Leyland said, all those strikeouts "can be a Catch-22. It's no so valuable because you don't get a lot of quick outs, so the pitch count goes up. But when you get in a jam they have the capability of striking somebody out. It works both ways."
Especially against Boston. Contrary to popular belief, the Red Sox do shave on occasion. It's just that their games last so long -- a nearly four-hour 1-0 game? -- that their beards are back to ZZ Top length again by the seventh-inning stretch. These guys work the count as if they get paid by the hour, or the pitch. Which is one reason why, even though Sanchez didn't allow a hit, he still didn't get past the sixth inning. Despite shutting out the Red Sox on one hit, Detroit pitchers still threw 164 pitches.
That didn't result in a Boston victory Saturday night, but it could have an effect in future games given that Detroit's bullpen is not as strong as its starting rotation. The quicker the Red Sox can get the pitch count up on a starter, the quicker they can get into that bullpen.
Of course, the Sox also will have to fare better against the Detroit bullpen than they did Saturday.
"You don't embrace it, you just know that's what they're going to do -- they're going to grind out at-bats," Verlander said of combating the Red Sox approach. "That's what they do. They're professional hitters and they have guys who work the count. The only way to counteract that is to be aggressive in the strike zone. You throw your stuff. You throw your best stuff and you throw a lot of strikes."
"They can grind AB's out, they don't chase a lot. They foul off pitches," Scherzer said. "Really, it all comes down to attacking the hitters and making sure I'm working ahead in count. I've got to be 1-and-2 before I'm 2-and-1."
Exactly. Working the count is only successful when either the pitcher can't throw enough strikes or when you're taking good, powerful strokes at them rather than weakly checking your swing.
Plus, it's not like the Tigers put on a hitting display Saturday night, either. And in Game 2 they face Clay Buchholz, who was 12-1 with a 1.74 ERA this season.
"They've got Buchholz and John Lackey. Those guys are pretty good themselves," Detroit right fielder Torii Hunter said. "It's always a pitching matchup in the postseason. You have to execute and play fundamentally sound baseball in the postseason."