SEATTLE -- A game that threatened records for punchouts Wednesday night ended with Tigers backup catcher Brayan Pena absorbing a potential knockout.
After 40 strikeouts over 14 innings, including 21 from Tigers hitters to tie a franchise record, and 12 each from Mariners ace Felix Hernandez and Max Scherzer over eight innings, everything came down to one major contact between Pena and Justin Smoak, who was the potential tying run. Pena took a forearm to the head, but held onto the ball to show it to home plate umpire Bob Davidson while recollecting his thoughts.
As a result, the Tigers took a 2-1 win out of a game in which exactly half of their 42 outs came by strikeout. By avoiding one in his last at-bat, Pena recorded the game-winning RBI before arguably deserving the save.
"It was just one of those games that you really do whatever it takes to get the win," Pena said. "Everybody battled, both teams, but definitely our team, we played great baseball. We never laid back because we know how hard it is when you're the visitor. For us to come out with this 'W' is huge for us."
Detroit became the first team in modern Major League history to win back-to-back games striking out 16 or more times, according to research on baseball-reference.com.
"I'm not much for those kind of records. I don't care," manager Jim Leyland said. "All I know is we're 2-0 the last two nights, and that's all that matters. That's a nice conversation piece for everybody else, but we got two wins."
This was by far the trickier of the two. If they can't beat Hernandez, still 9-0 against Detroit since 2007, they showed they can match him.
Not since Mark Prior and Javier Vazquez in 2003 had two Major League pitchers both racked up 12 strikeouts in the same game, according to ESPN Stats and Info. Not since the great Randy Johnson dueled Mark Langston in 1992 had two opposing starters put up 12 or more strikeouts with an earned run or less, according to Elias Sports Bureau.
The similarities between Hernandez and Scherzer kept going beyond the strikeouts, from eight innings of one-run ball to nearly identical pitch counts: 105 pitches and 75 strikes for Scherzer, 106 pitches and 76 strikes for Hernandez. They set the tone for the night.
"I knew going in Felix was going to bring his game," Scherzer said. "He always seems to find a way to pitch his best games against the best lineups, so I just knew going in tonight I was going to have to bring my 'A' game if we were going to have a shot to win."
Scherzer rolled through the Mariners lineup in order in the first three innings, striking out five. After Franklin Gutierrez singled leading off the fourth, Scherzer left him on first with back-to-back strikeouts of Kendrys Morales and Michael Morse.
Once Scherzer struck out Morales again end the sixth, Scherzer had fanned 10 of Seattle's first 21 batters. When Hernandez followed with two more in the seventh, 21 of the game's first 39 outs were strikeouts. Only one out had come on a fly ball to the outfield.
"He allowed me to stay in a rhythm," Scherzer said of his counterpart, "because he was working quick innings. Every inning felt like 1-2-3, no knock on our guys. For me, I was able to stay in a rhythm. I felt like that's why I was able to stay consistent with my pitches. That's the nature of the pitching duel tonight."
Three pitches into the bottom of the seventh, the Mariners got the tying run that essentially canceled the two starters out with a Morse double into the left-field corner, followed by a Raul Ibanez bouncer down the first-base line two pitches later.
From there, it was on. While Leyland played matchups with his bullpen, using two relievers in both the ninth and 10th innings before Al Alburquerque pitched an easy 11th, M's closer Tom Wilhelmsen fanned three more Tigers in two innings.
Five strikeouts in a six-batter span of the 12th and 13th innings -- two from Oliver Perez, three from former Tigers left-hander Charlie Furbush -- put the Tigers at 21, tying a record last accomplished against Toronto on Aug. 8, 1991, in a game that was fittingly scoreless until the 14th.
The only Tigers starter not to strike out Wednesday was Victor Martinez. He was a strike away from it in the 14th when his single through the middle started the deciding rally.
Furbush couldn't get a call on a full count to Matt Tuiasosopo, whose walk moved pinch-runner Don Kelly into scoring position. Kelly slid in ahead of catcher Jesus Montero's throw on Jhonny Peralta's sacrifice bunt, loading the bases with nobody out.
The M's needed strikeouts to escape, and they couldn't get it. Robert Andino's diving stop at short with a drawn-in infield denied Pena a go-ahead hit but couldn't prevent the run.
"I was trying to redeem myself," Pena said, "because last at-bat I struck out with a runner on second. I'm not trying to do too much, trying to put the ball in play and trying to look to the middle."
He had another play in mind -- a slide from then-Ranger Mike Napoli under a tag at the plate a couple years ago while with Kansas City -- when Dustin Ackley doubled into the right-field corner in the bottom of the 14th off Joaquin Benoit.
It took a fundamental relay just to get the ball there. Prince Fielder, backing up Omar Infante on Torii Hunter's throw, got it to him.
"My main goal in that situation was to hold onto the baseball and absorb the hit," Pena said. "It was one of those plays that was a do or die. I knew he was coming after me, and credit Prince Fielder. He made a good throw and Torii made sure he got the baseball as fast as possible."
The way the game unfolded, 4 hours and 27 minutes old, there was little question to send him.
"I knew off the bat I was trying to score," Smoak said. "They had to make a perfect relay throw to get me. He was up the line there and I really had nowhere to go. I had to do what I had to do. I just lowered my shoulder and hoped for the best."
Pena was fine. Moments later, he couldn't have felt much better.
"I was a little dizzy for a few seconds," he admitted, "but I got my breath back and I understood where I was. That was the most important thing. I knew I was fine."