Max Scherzer can’t get to 20 wins in loss to Red Soxthe second pitcher in major league history to start a season 20-1. Though he pitched well on Tuesday night at Fenway Park, his teammates failed to muster the level of offensive support — a major league best 6.0 runs per game — that had helped him to that sterling record, and he wound upon the short end of a 2-1 decision. All of which is a rather backhanded way of saying that Jon Lester outpitched Scherzer by a slim margin, but then I’ve made my feelings regarding the antiquated accounting system of pitcher win-loss records in this space before.
Scherzer did pitch much better than in his previous turn last Thursday, when he surrendered a season-high six runs (five earned) to the A’s and averted a loss thanks only to a walkoff home run by Torii Hunter. He was staked to an early 1-0 lead when former Red Sox shortstop Jose Iglesias doubled home Omar Infante in the second inning, and held the Sox scoreless through the first four innings on just 43 pitches — 13 apiece in the first three frames and then just four in the fourth.
The Sox broke through in the fifth, putting two runners in scoring position via Jonny Gomes’ one-out single and Stephen Drew’s ground-rule double. Scherzer recovered to strike out David Ross — one of his eight whiffs on the night — but Will Middlebrooks followed with a hard-hit groundball between Iglesias and second base that plated both runners.
The Tigers just couldn’t muster the tying run against Lester, who pitched seven innings, or the quartet of relievers who followed him. They put runners on first and second with one out in the top of the sixth inning, but Lester struck out Matt Tuiasosopo and then induced Brayan Pena to fly out. The Tigers put only one more runner on over the final three innings, and that came with two outs in the eighth.
Scherzer departed after allowing the first two runners to reach base in the eighth. In all, he threw 111 pitches and allowed five hits, three walks and two runs in his seven innings, cutting his ERA from 2.90 to 2.88 — exactly a run lower than that of Lester, who yielded eight hits and struck out nine while walking none in his seven innings and 111 pitches.
The loss was Scherzer’s first since July 13, and it prevented him from joining the company of Roger Clemens, who began the 2001 season 20-1. He still leads the AL in wins thanks to that offensive support, and meanwhile ranks first in WHIP (0.94), second in strikeouts (209), third in ERA, and fifth in innings (190 1/3). In all likelihood, he’ll remain second in Baseball-Reference.com’s version of Wins Above Replacement behind Chris Sale; he entered the night with 5.8 to Sale’s 6.2, and the latter allowed three runs (two earned) in 7 1/3 innings against the Yankees, so both pitchers will probably add a few tenths of a win via that measure. All of those numbers bolster a reasonable but hardly overwhelming case for the AL Cy Young award, albeit one that still risks getting lost behind a 19-2 record — but that’s an argument for another day.