DETROIT -- Justin Verlander is the marquee name in the Tigers' rotation, but Max Scherzer has pitched as well as any Cy Young candidate in baseball during the second half of the season.
If you watched the way he chain-sawed through the Yankees over 5 2/3 innings in Detroit's 8-1 Game 4 win Thursday, you could see why.
And you can understand how close Detroit's season might have come to being derailed when the right-hander was yanked from a Sept. 18 start against Oakland after only two innings with what was described as shoulder fatigue.
That sounded awful enough at the time that it was easy to imagine Scherzer devolving into a non-factor in October.
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Instead, he has been dominant. In two postseason starts, Scherzer has surrendered only one earned run over 11 innings, striking out 18 and walking only three.
Those eye-popping numbers are no small part of the reason the Tigers are where they are.
In the season's second half, Doug Fister (2.67), Scherzer (2.69) and Justin Verlander (2.73) ranked third, fourth and fifth in the American League in ERA among starting pitchers with a minimum of 60 innings pitched.
Losing Scherzer would have been a huge deal for the Tigers. Especially, losing the Scherzer the Tigers and their fans have been watching since July.
As things turn out, the problem wasn't so much in Scherzer's shoulder, Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski said Thursday night. It was his deltoid muscle.
And while it wasn't exactly something the Tigers were thrilled with, internally they weren't as alarmed as you might expect.
"They identified it quickly, and it was more a matter of making sure he got it to where it was rested again," Dombrowski said. "Like they said, it's just like a person who's tired.
"I was concerned about getting it up and going again, but you could see progress being made. He felt good about it."
He worked five innings five days later, on Sept. 23, then didn't pitch again until a four-inning outing on Oct. 3.
Then he started Game 4 in Oakland on Oct. 10.
"His work ethic is unbelievable," Dombrowski said. "He's a very honest guy. I felt, based on what people said, that if we got to this point, he'd be ready to go."
Now, here's the scary part for whomever the Tigers face in the World Series.
"He's only going to get stronger," Dombrowski continued. "He's building up his endurance still at this point."