Max Scherzer won 13 games before he lost his first. He then won seven more, putting his record at 19-1. That would have broken the 63 year-old mark for win percentage in season.
All Scherzer had to do was not lose another game. It would be tough. It was now early September, his team was in a pennant race. They needed his starts, his innings. The record was important, but not more important than another trip to the World Series for his Detroit Tigers.
Sure it would be tough, but it couldn’t be any tougher than winning 13 straight. If he kept pitching like he had all season, it was certainly possible. He just needed a little luck.
On Sept. 3, Scherzer went to the mound in Fenway Park to face the American League’s best team, the Boston Red Sox. In the second inning, Omar Infante singled, then scored on Jose Iglesias’ hit. Scherzer and the Tigers led 1-0. Another win was right in his hands.
In the fifth, Scherzer allowed a one out single to Jonny Gomes. Stephen Drew then bounced one into the stands for a ground rule double. Number nine hitter Will Middlebrooks singled them home. Red Sox 2-1.
Scherzer pitched into the eighth. First batter Daniel Nava drew a walk. Dustin Pedroia singled. Scherzer had thrown 111 pitches, more than in all but eight games this season. Manager Jim Leyland had seen enough. The Tigers needed this game more than Leyland cared about Scherzer’s personal achievements. Scherzer was done for the night.
That night in Boston, Scherzer’s luck ran out. There was no Tigers rally to be had. The Red Sox won, 2-1. Max Scherzer was 19-2, one of the best winning percentages of all-time. One of the best, but not the best.
At a modest second floor walkup apartment in North Versailles, PA, Elroy Face watched the Tigers, and more importantly Scherzer, lose. It probably made his elfish mouth curl up in a slight smile. Face’s 18-1 record, the best winning percentage ever by a pitcher with that many decisions, would last at least another year.
Face needed a team who trusted his talents and knew how to use them. He had a rubber arm and one pitch, a forkball. He never knew where it was going, and neither did the hitters. While some people couldn’t trust the little fork baller as a major weapon, some baseball people did. Branch Rickey, Danny Murtaugh and Joe Brown each won multiple championships. They knew Elroy Face was a man you could win with.
Elroy was the first pitcher to save 20 games three times in a season. When he did it, he hadn’t even realized it was a big deal. Relievers stats weren’t so revered. He retired with the most NL appearances of all time. That record held until 1986. He held the league record for saves until 1982, had the innings pitched record until 1983 and still holds the NL mark for wins in relief.
When Elroy retired he was second in the major leagues in saves behind Hoyt Wilhelm and third in appearances behind Wilhelm and Cy Young. He had also equaled Walter Johnson’s major league record of appearances with one team. That’s some damn fine company.
No offense to Scherzer, but I’m glad he didn’t break Face’s record. I only wish it was more often mentioned whose record it was he was trying to break. I’m glad the Pirates are having such a terrific season, no matter what happens in the playoffs. I’m glad there is a resurgence of Pirate enthusiasm. My generation loved those Pirate teams of Elroy’s generation. I’m really glad Elroy is not a forgotten man.
When I set up the interview with Elroy, I called him on his cell phone. “Hi, Elroy,” I said, “this is Chris Andrews from Reno.”
“Hi, Chris,” Elroy said. “Can you call me back? I’m in the car with Bill Mazeroski. I should be home in about 15 minutes.”
I’m sure I was smiling ear to ear as I immediately thought back to my dad and me sitting on the porch talking about two of his favorite players.
This is an outtake, the full article is on my website, Againstthenumber.com.
Chris Andrews has over 30 years of experience as a bookmaker in Nevada. Check out his new website at www.againstthenumber.com and www.sharpssports.com. You can follow him on Twitter@AndrewsSports. Contact Chris at [email protected].