DETROIT -- A few years ago, Max Scherzer was pitching in the Dallas/Fort Worth area while his professional career was on hold. On Saturday, the young Detroit right-hander will be back in the same neighborhood, pitching to keep the resolution of the American League Championship Series on hold. Justin Verlander and Co. sent the ALCS back to Texas, and now it will be up to Scherzer to send it to a Game 7 when he duels left-hander Derek Holland in Rangers Ballpark. The FOX broadcast of Game 6 begins at 7:30 p.m. ET, with first pitch scheduled for 8:05.
Taking the weight and pressures of the assignment into consideration, the Tigers couldn't have picked a better man for it. Stressed out? This is a 27-year-old who two weeks ago took the mound at Yankee Stadium with Detroit already a game down in the Division Series, and blanked the Yankees for six innings on two hits to set up a pivotal 5-3 victory. "I'm really not nervous about the situation at all. It's the opportunity of a lifetime," Scherzer said Friday, while the Tigers worked out in Comerica Park prior to an afternoon flight to Texas. "It's the most exciting challenge I've ever had to face. The atmosphere in that [Rangers] Ballpark is awesome, electric. We're all chomping at the bits to play Game 6." With Scherzer exhibiting that attitude, no wonder Tigers manager Jim Leyland said, "I'm proud of the way we set up our pitching. We couldn't ask for anything more." That includes having Doug Fister on stand-by for a Game 7 on Sunday. To ensure there is a Game 7, however, Scherzer has to take care of Game 6. He appears as primed physically as he is mentally. "I feel great," he said. "This is the strongest my arm has felt all year." The Tigers behind him will feel the strongest they have ... since Tuesday? When Victor Martinez joined their ranks of walking wounded by straining the intercostal muscle in his right side on a home run swing. They had to survive Game 5 in Comerica Park, but they will be in far better shape behind Scherzer for this one. The first genuine off-day of the ALCS calendar -- Sunday's rainout does not count -- will have rested the heart of the Detroit bullpen, which was largely unavailable on Thursday. And the day of rest could only further fortify the walking wounded who nevertheless have been contributing to keeping the team breathing -- Alex Avila, Delmon Young and Martinez. "Unless they trip on the plane, I assume all systems will be go," Leyland said. This will be a rematch of the last game played in Rangers Ballpark, the thrilling Game 2 begun on Monday by Scherzer and Holland that ended in the 11th inning on Nelson Cruz's grand slam. It will also be a rematch between Scherzer and Cruz, whose battering of Detroit pitching began earlier that game when he struck a game-tying homer to lead off the seventh to set up his own extra-inning heroics in the 7-3 Texas win. Up to that point, Scherzer had hurled a five-hitter and held a 3-2 lead. Cruz's ALCS damage now is up to five home runs, a new LCS record. Leyland has no idea how to deal with him -- "If anyone has any suggestions, I'd be willing to take it." -- but Scherzer does. "You can't experiment. You've got to go right after him. The minute you start tinkering with different things, you're losing the battle," Scherzer said. "He's a good hitter and he's hot, but you've got to be aggressive right back at him. "In certain situations, you might have to be more careful. But my game plan, I can guarantee, is to be aggressive." Scherzer's Game 2 command makes him feel even more comfortable approaching this critical assignment. But he has been at ease in southeastern Texas since winding up in Fort Worth while waiting out the 2007 First-Year Player Draft. Scherzer was the Arizona Diamondbacks' No. 1 Draft choice in 2006, at a time draftees and teams faced the deadline of the subsequent year's Draft to agree on a contract. As negotiations between the sides slowed, Scherzer, not having pitched competitively for more than a year, hooked up with an independent league team in Fort Worth and made three starts before he and the D-backs came to terms. Scherzer toyed with that competition, striking out 25 in 16 innings. He'll be in a slightly tougher crowd on Saturday, hoping to do his part to set up the third ALCS in five years to go the distance. But it would be only the seventh to go to a seventh game since the series was expanded from a best-of-five format in 1985 -- and the first to not involve an East Division team. "We feel good," Scherzer said, summing up the team's mood at the off-day workout. "The series is still alive [for us]. We're pretty relaxed. Get past Game 6, and anything can happen in a Game 7." Just about everything has already happened in Games 1 through 5 -- players coming off the inactive list to hit homers (Young), players with knees too sore to block pitches hitting home runs (Avila), baseballs bouncing off bases for crucial doubles. As Scherzer said, channeling Yogi Berra, "One-in-a-million stuff has happened every day."