The Scherzer controversy that the media doesn’t want to talk about

Was Max Scherzer really exhausted after seven innings in Game Two? Some reports from the clubhouse claim otherwise.

Was Max Scherzer really exhausted after seven innings in Game Two? Some reports from the clubhouse claim otherwise.

It’s the controversy that won’t go away; it’s the controversy that shouldn’t go away.

But you wouldn’t know it if you depend on Detroit-area media, broadcast and press, for your sports information.

It has barely been whispered in the Detroit Free Press and Detroit News, hardly mentioned on Channels 2,4 or 7. But among fans, among your friends, in bars and homes and businesses all over town, the question and arguments live on: Should Jim Leyland have taken Max Scherzer out of Game Two of the American League Championship Series, and did the Detroit manager commit a blunder that doomed his team to a turnaround tailspin in the once-promising playoff tilt?

Further, was Scherzer truthful in allegedly saying, in backing up his manager’s claim, that he was exhausted after pitching seven sterling innings on Sunday night? Was he really out of gas, or was he politely caving in to his manager’s decision by agreeing that he ‘couldn’t’ go on in the contest, copping the company line and not disagreeing with Leyland’s seeming odd decision?

Scherzer had, after all, struck out two of the three Boston hitters he retired in the seventh inning, and looked sharp in doing so. He seemed pumped when he left the mound…never to be seen again. Leyland replaced him with a quartet of bullpen tossers, and the rest was history. Boston Red Sox history.

The question hangs over our town, as it has hung over the remainder of the American League Championship Series. But, again, you wouldn’t know it if you watch, read, or listen to local sports media. Why?

First, in the interests of full disclosure, I wrote a column for this site following the breath-taking Sunday night Tigers defeat. It was a bit intemperate, but understandable if I do say so, based on a lifetime of swallowing painful Tigers losses. And this was surely the most excruciating in that long history of hurt and disappointment.

I never believed Scherzer’s claim (in going along with Leyland’s statement) that he was “out of gas” after going seven innings and throwing a smidge over 100 pitches. In fact, on Wednesday I heard from a friend that the story in the Tigers dugout is that Scherzer HAD said “Let me go one more” (inning) to Leyland after coming off the mound. That story is, of course, uncorroborated, but if true, the finger of blame goes directly to Leyland for the Tigers amazing turnaround – for the worse-  in the Series. It’s truly been a stunning change of fortune.

Why NOT let Scherzer retake the mound, and continue his mastery of the Sox? Why not let him TRY to pitch to even one batter to see if he actually had gas left in his tank? What could that have hurt with a four-run Tigers lead? I said in my Monday column that I have no doubt that the Tigers would not have lost that game if Leyland had sent Scherzer out in the eighth inning, no doubt at all. That nightmare of Tiger pitching blunders, capped by Joaquin Benoit’s gopher-ball for the ages, would never have occurred. Never.

Also sticking in local craws was the fact that Benoit had been tip-toeing a relieving tightrope in his appearances leading up to his Game Two appearance. He was brought in to close out an 8-4 lead against Oakland in the ALDS, and ended up barely pulling the game out, 8-6, leaving a runner on second and the tying run at the plate. In another playoff appearance, working a one-run lead, he put two runners on (including a hit batsman) before narrowly squeezing out a win on a flyball out. Anybody with decent vision could see Benoit was the shakiest of “closers.“ He was an accident waiting to happen.

The accident happened Sunday.

Which leaves us to wonder about Leyland’s vision.

But not if you’re a local columnist, not if you’re a local happy talker on broadcast news. You have to wonder, especially if you’ve heard Leyland’s decision being questioned among your relatives and co-workers and friends, which you likely have, why it hasn’t been addressed in local media, why the Tiger skipper seems to get a free ride from the media.

For one, I have to believe that sports reporters – print and broadcast types – just don’t care as much about Tiger and local fortunes as they claim. They seem content to stay on Leyland’s bright side, not willing to inflame their clubhouse relationships by asking difficult questions. So they don’t. They don’t even hint at issues that might cause controversy, and possibly cause the Tiger skipper to choke on his ever-present postgame meal.

Shame on ‘em, screw ‘em all. Free Press, News, all the Channels. If the questions flare in the lives of the fans, you’d think these company men and women would at least have the curiosity to raise such pressing matters. But they don’t, they didn’t, they haven’t. It’s probably figured to be amateurish, uncool, and unsophisticated to question the decisions of big league experts like Leyland, to mirror the angry man-on-the street concerns of average Tigers fans, the folks who pay Leyland’s salary, and by extension the incomes of the slew of local sports reporters who refuse to see a raging controversy that continues to flare right in front of their faces.

But hey, the players aren’t complaining! Not even Scherzer, at least not in public, so who are we to give vent to unprofessional complaints? And to risk the ire of a Leyland, a Dombrowski, an Ilitch in doing so? If you recall, Tori Hunter and Victor Martinez both sullenly said (in tense, clipped terms) following Sunday’s game, that they were “pissed” at the chain of events that resulted in Boston’s incredible victory. Has anybody pressed them to find exactly what, or whom, they were pissed at, or about? Not a word since. Hearing them, I certainly had the sense they were unhappy with the Tigers’ management of their 5-1 lead. But no press followup ensued.

I DO know for a fact that former Tigers, famous former Tigers, have certainly questioned the Scherzer decision, and Scherzer’s heart, sometimes in furious tones. If Tigers legends, like so many fans, were baffled by what occurred, where the hell are local media in asking what happened, and why? Will no one clear the air? Rest assured our local reporters remain in Leyland’s good graces, and Tiger management’s, by not addressing such painful issues.

But that leaves every one of us who wants a full explanation of the Scherzer decision, a decision that so drastically changed the tenor of this series, a decision that broke our hearts, out in the cold. We deserve more, we deserve better.

Hey, it’s only us. Midwestern, reactionary, intemperate fans. Average, often lifelong, Detroiters who have sweated blood and bullets over the decades with this team.

Who cares about us? We’re at the end of the food chain here, apparently. And what do we know? We’re not cool, sophisticated baseballers like those Boston types so celebrated by national media. America’s darlings, attired in idiotic beards, on the field and in the stands, looking like absolute rubes to even us so-unsophisticated Detroiters.

And it’s apparently not worth losing a valued seat at Jim Leyland’s postgame meal table, with the food and drink and back-slapping times that go along with being in the team’s and the manager’s good graces. It’s too great a risk, apparently, for reporters to upset their very comfortable sports applecarts by merely asking …WHY?

So Detroit loses, and Detroiters lose once again. That absurd grand slam went right to the heart of our longtime pain, in more ways than one.

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About Tom DeLisle

Tom DeLisle is a native Detroiter. The east side resident was a city desk reporter for the Detroit Free Press from 1967 to '71, and a member of the Free Press staff that won the 1968 Pulitzer Prize for reporting the Detroit Riot. After serving as an Executive Assistant and speechwriter to Detroit Mayor Roman Gribbs from 1971-74, he worked as a television writer and producer in New York and Los Angeles, including a variety of bad sitcoms and comedy specials. He wrote monologues for guest host Richard Dawson for "The Tonight Show" from 1978 to '81. Returning to Detroit, he worked in television and radio with Dick Purtan and Tom Ryan, winning five Emmy Awards for local documentaries and comedies, including the 1981 primetime "Dick Purtan Comedy Special" and 1990's "Sparky Anderson Special" (with guest Pres. Richard Nixon) for WDIV-TV. He wrote for a variety of Tigers and Red Wings specials for Channel 50 in the 1990s and 2000s, including the "Stanley Celebrations," while appearing as "The Nervous Person" for three years on the '"Ray (Lane) and Mickey (Redmond) On Ice" specials at WKBD. He is currently completing a novel, and generally slowing down, because he's fairly tired.