DETROIT -- There are but a handful of pitchers on earth who, on a good day, can approach Justin Verlander's level of dominance.
The Tigers boast one of them alongside Verlander in their own rotation. When he is grooving, as he has for the past four-plus months, right-hander Max Scherzer can morph into one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball.
And if the Tigers are to extend this World Series for another day, they will need Scherzer at his dominant best in Game 4 on Sunday at Comerica Park (8 p.m. ET air time on FOX, 8:15 ET first pitch).
"I absolutely relish it," Scherzer said of his Game 4 start, with the Tigers trailing the series, 3-0, and on the brink of elimination. "I mean, this is the start of a lifetime to be able to pitch in the World Series. Every game you pitch in the World Series is a must-win game, so what better opportunity than the one I have?"
Despite concerns over his balky right shoulder heading into the postseason, Scherzer has managed to maintain his top form throughout October. He gave up just two total earned runs during the American League Division Series and Championship Series, striking out 18 and walking three over two starts. Seventy percent of his pitches in those two playoff starts were strikes.
Tale of the Tape: Game 4
|2012 regular season|
|Overall: 32 GS, 16-5, 2.79 ERA, 51 BB, 193 K||Overall: 32 GS, 16-7, 3.74 ERA, 60 BB, 231 K|
|Key stat: Cain's start in Game 7 of the NLCS was his first scoreless outing of the postseason.||Key stat: Scherzer has struck out 18 batters over 11 innings in his two starts this postseason.|
|At Comerica Park|
|2012: 14 GS, 7-3, 3.51 ERA
Career: 47 GS, 23-11, 3.45 ERA
|Against this opponent|
Career: 4 GS, 1-3, 5.12 ERA
|Loves to face: Miguel Cabrera: 1-for-6, 2 K
Hates to face: Prince Fielder: 5-for-18
|Loves to face: Pablo Sandoval: 2-for-8, 4 K
Hates to face: Marco Scutaro: 4-for-9
|Why he'll win: Cain has a career 1.83 postseason ERA.||Why he'll win: Scherzer has struck out 18 batters while walking only three this postseason.|
|Pitcher beware: Cain's road ERA this season was 3.56, up from his 2.03 home ERA.||Pitcher beware: Scherzer hasn't pitched since Game 4 of the ALCS on Oct. 18. This season, he had a 5.27 ERA on more than six days of rest.|
|Bottom line: The Giants will send their ace to the mound in Game 4 in the midst of a brilliant stretch of postseason starts.||Bottom line: Scherzer will be pitching after a long layoff, though he has blown batters away in his two starts this postseason.|
From a wider perspective, those performances were an extension of the regular season, which saw Scherzer rebound from a rough start to go 11-3 with a 2.53 ERA, 143 strikeouts and 31 walks over his final 19 outings, a span of 117 1/3 innings. He led the Majors this season in strikeouts per nine innings -- more than two whiffs per nine better than Verlander -- and ranked fifth in the AL in strikeout-to-walk ratio.
"I found something that clicked for me there in May and June, and ever since then it's really locked me in on where my fastball location is," Scherzer said. "I'm able to locate my fastball a lot better, and have been able to drive it to the glove side part of the plate. Once I'm able to do that, it sets up all my other pitches. It sets up my slider, it sets up my changeup and so because of that, I feel like that's why I've been effective as of late."
In many ways this was a breakout campaign for Scherzer, whose low point last year came at the hands of the Giants. Making a start at Comerica Park on July 2, Scherzer gave up nine runs in two innings of an eventual 15-3 loss.
His margin for error will be thinner in Game 4, with National League All-Star starter Matt Cain making his 2012 World Series debut for the Giants. It's a simple formula: If the Giants win, they will become World Series champions for the second time in three years. If they lose, Verlander will pitch Game 5 for the Tigers in an attempt to send the series back to San Francisco.
"You try to trick yourself into thinking it's another game, but you know what's going on," said Cain, the Giants' ace, who won Game 7 of the NL Championship Series to keep San Francisco's championship hopes alive. "It's like your mind and your body, they know what's going on. They know it's going to be a big game in the World Series."
Scherzer knows it, too. And the Tigers know it. They need to win both of the next two games in Detroit to send the series back to San Francisco, where they would undoubtedly enter with momentum.
"We know that runs are at a minimum right now," outfielder Quintin Berry said, "and every situation that comes about is very important."
None more than this one. But if Scherzer can draw upon the dominance he flashed throughout the regular season, he has the potential to do his part.
"Being out there for the introductions for Game 1 and watching the flyover, that's just such a cool experience to be a part of the World Series," Scherzer said Saturday. "I've already gotten to pinch myself and say I'm in the World Series. Tomorrow, when I go out there it'll be business as usual for me, competing and trying to beat the Giants."