The merits of pitching wins as a viable statistic to accurately measure a pitcher’s value can be debatable. Antiquated of a measure as it might be, either Detroit’s Max Scherzer or Seattle’s Felix Hernandez deserved to get a win Wednesday night.
The two starting pitchers delivered dueling virtuoso performances at Safeco Field. Neither was credited with the win or saddled with the loss in the Tigers’ 2-1, 14-inning victory.
Those went to relievers many, many, many innings later.
The win went to Detroit pitcher Drew Smyly, who pitched the 13th. The loss went to Charlie Furbush, who allowed the winning run to reach base in the top of the 14th. The run later scored on a fielder’s choice.
Hitting just wasn’t going to happen on the frigid night. The teams combined to strike out 40 times (Mariners 19, Tigers 21).
The Mariners had one last gasp in the 14th. Justin Smoak singled and tried to score from first with two outs on Dustin Ackley’s double to right. But he was thrown out at home after a nasty collision in which catcher Brayan Peña held onto the ball.
Mariners manager Eric Wedge had no problem with third base coach Jeff Datz sending the slow-footed Smoak in that situation. After 14 innings of attrition, force the Tigers to make the play.
“He has to send him right there,” Wedge said. “Either it’s a bad relay and you are in there, or it’s that type of play where you bang at home plate and hope the catcher drops the ball.”
Tigers manager Jim Leyland agreed.
“I thought their third-base coach made a great call,” Leyland said. “He made a hell of a call sending (Smoak). We just happened to execute (the throw). That’s one where we’ve got to make the play, and (Datz) made us make it.”
With two outs and a ball to the corner, Smoak was thinking of only one thing.
“I knew off the bat I was trying to score,” Smoak said. “He was up the line, and I had nowhere to go and I had to do what I had to do. I just lowered my shoulder and hoped for the best. I hope he’s alright, but it’s part of the game.”
But the extra-inning drama was secondary to what transpired over the first eight innings of baseball — exquisite pitching from Scherzer and Hernandez.
“Great starting pitching,” Wedge said. “It went all they to the very end.”
Scherzer tossed eight innings, giving up one run on six hits with a walk and 12 strikeouts. He threw 105 pitches with 75 for strikes.
Hernandez also threw eight innings, giving up one unearned run on four hits with no walks, 12 strikeouts and one wild pitch. He threw 106 pitches with 76 strikes.
It was the first time in Safeco Field history that two pitchers had recorded 10-plus-strikeout games. The last time two pitchers each had 10 or more strikeouts in a game was Aug. 20, 2012, when the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw and the Giants’ Madison Bumgarner each struck out 10.
So how did Hernandez and Scherzer give up their lone runs?
The Tigers’ unearned run off Hernandez came in the fifth inning. Victor Martinez scalded a low liner that short-hopped shortstop Brendan Ryan and hit off his wrist. Ryan was charged with an error. Andy Dirks doubled to right-center, moving Martinez to third.
With nobody out, Mariners manager Eric Wedge had the infield play at medium depth, not necessarily conceding the run. Jhonny Peralta hit a hard ground ball at Ryan, who hesitated for a moment, thought about throwing home and then fired to first for the out. Martinez scored on the play.
The Mariners’ lone run off Scherzer came in the seventh. Michael Morse led off with a double down the right-field line, and he scored moments later on Raul Ibañez’s single to right field.
There were a few minor opportunities for more runs. The Mariners had a decent chance in the fifth inning with runners on first and second with one out. But Scherzer got Ackley to ground into an inning-ending double play. In the eighth, Franklin Gutierrez doubled with two outs, but Scherzer came back to strike out Kyle Seager. His last pitch of the night was a 96 mph fastball to which Seager had no chance of catching up.
The Tigers’ best chance to score more runs came in the fifth. Dirks still was on second with nobody out after the run had scored. But Hernandez got a ground ball, a strikeout and another ground ball to end the inning.
The Tigers also got a runner to second in the sixth and eighth, and both times, Hernandez left them there.
Unfortunately, the starters’ fun had to end at some point. Entertaining as it was, neither pitcher could go all night. Both left after eight full innings of work.
But the score still was 1-1 over the next five innings.