Endurance Scherzer's only issue in Game 4

Endurance Scherzer's only issue in Game 4

Endurance Scherzer's only issue in Game 4
OAKLAND -- That's the Max Scherzer that led the American League in strikeouts for most of the summer and loomed as a second Tigers ace for teams to face in October.

He wasn't that way for as long as he would've liked, but that was an endurance question, not an arm question. His stuff, two weeks after shoulder soreness put his season in doubt, was as close to midseason form as he has been since missing his start down the stretch.

A's vs. Tigers

He has no idea whether he'll get to use it again this season. But if the Tigers can overcome their 4-3, walk-off loss to the A's in Game 4 of the American League Division Series and advance, Scherzer looks ready to team up with Justin Verlander to make Detroit a formidable threat in the AL Championship Series.

"I was able to pitch pretty well, I thought," Scherzer said. "I did a good job working my fastball to offspeed. I thought the slider, change and curveball were all really good and effective. So from where my stuff is at, it's really as good as ever."

Or as catcher Alex Avila put it, "Stuff-wise, he's good to go."

Though Tigers officials had every reason to believe in Scherzer's health after elbow and ankle injuries hampered him over the past couple weeks, they had no idea how effectively or how long he'd pitch. His fastball had been a tick under his midseason velocity since he returned from deltoid problems at the front of his shoulder.

It didn't take long to build. He fired fastballs at 92, 93 and 94 mph for a three-pitch strikeout of Stephen Drew, the second batter he faced. Once he hit 95 mph on back-to-back fastballs to Brandon Moss for an inning-ending strikeout, he was on.

With a fastball he could crank up to 96 and a slider that A's batters just couldn't hit, Scherzer rolled off 12 consecutive outs, including four swinging strikeouts in a five-batter span between the first and third innings.

After Prince Fielder's mammoth home run built a 2-0 lead, Scherzer responded with a five-pitch shutdown inning. As big as it was to light up the radar gun, to quiet the Oakland crowd might have been a bigger feat, even it was temporary.

"His velocity was up in the last start he had in KC," Avila said. "Obviously, his slider's been tremendous this year. So has his changeup. The thing he didn't have in his last start, just because he hadn't pitched in a while, was the location on his fastball. When he could really spot up with his fastball today, he was setting everything else up."

His command began to waver in the fifth, but his deceptiveness remained, getting Josh Reddick to swing and miss at a slider for the second time and spotting a slider on the edge to Josh Donaldson with a full count.

Scherzer was a pitch away from striking out the side and cruising into the sixth, having put Seth Smith in an 0-2 hole. But he couldn't get Smith to offer at a fastball off the plate, running the count full, then missed again for a walk.

Another 0-2 count to Derek Norris got away from him with a bloop single to right, putting Scherzer in his first serious test. Again, Scherzer got an 0-2 count, this time finishing off Cliff Pennington with a nasty offspeed pitch down and in.

The extra pitches Scherzer had to throw, though, cost him going into the sixth.

"I was able to finish the fifth, but I could feel I was starting to get tired," Scherzer said. "I used some bullets there in the fifth inning to be able to get out of that jam, and when you're in a playoff atmosphere, you're putting so much on every single pitch. You prepare for it as much as you can, but the reality is I haven't pitched as much as I'd like. I just didn't have the same oomph in the sixth inning as I did in say the second or third."

He still should have had a leadoff out, having gotten a ground ball to first base from Coco Crisp. Fielder's error handling it put Crisp on second. Once Drew doubled him in, that was it.

"I think he wanted to face [Yoenis] Cespedes," manager Jim Leyland said, "but at this point I could see that his velocity was dropping. I didn't want him to make a mistake and have Cespedes hurt us. That's why we made the move. Max wanted Cespedes, but he was pretty much spent."

Scherzer didn't argue.

"I wanted to face one last hitter, but I understood where he was coming from," Scherzer said. "He wanted the matchup. That's his decision and I don't disagree."

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.