KANSAS CITY -- The weather was so hot at Kauffman Stadium that Max Scherzer changed jerseys three times Tuesday night to try to keep dry. For a few innings, he had a 2011 jersey that featured the patch remembering the late Sparky Anderson, which made for an odd sight. By game's end, he was wearing a record no Tigers starting pitcher has enjoyed at this point in a season in 75 years.
Scherzer is more of an advanced statistics believer, but he doesn't dismiss the bottom line. The right-hander held the Royals to just two runs on three hits over seven innings, but he had to wait until the eighth inning for the run support that carried him to victory.
It took a well-executed hit-and-run from Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera and a well-struck line drive from Victor Martinez off Aaron Crow for a go-ahead sacrifice fly, but the 3-2 win made Scherzer the first Detroit starter with a 9-0 start since Vern Kennedy in 1938.
"It's a flukey stat," Scherzer said, "but it's always good to win. Don't get me wrong. We're in the business of winning, and being 9-0 right now is obviously a sign of success."
Kennedy's career trajectory might well back up Scherzer's notion. He came over from the White Sox at age 31 off a 14-13 year, took a no-decision in his Tigers debut on the second day of the season and then won nine starts in a row. He went 3-9 the rest of the way, lost 20 games the next year and had just one other season with double-digit wins.
Scherzer's game continues to build. This was the point last summer when his game seemed to come together, and he hasn't let up. His 3.19 ERA is a half-run higher than Anibal Sanchez, who holds a 6-5 mark, and just under Doug Fister, who's 5-4.
"The win and loss records kind of flukey," Scherzer repeated. "You look at Doug last night, he pitched great and he gets a loss. Tonight, I pitched well and I get a win.
"I put myself in position. My offense has bailed me out a few times. When you look at win-loss records, I'm on a great offensive team. It's just a flukey stat. For me, it's great to be 9-0, because we're winning. But more importantly, I'm pitching better. I'm pitching well. I'm pitching deep into games and I'm pitching effectively."
His teammates don't consider it a fluke.
"He deserves it," said Don Kelly, whose RBI hit opened the scoring in the second inning. "He's been throwing the ball really well. It started last year. He really turned it on and he carried it over to this year. He's throwing all his pitches for strikes, he's getting ahead of guys. He's tough to hit."
Scherzer's secondary stats, from strikeouts per nine innings to strikeout-walk ratio to walks plus hits per innings pitched, back up his record. When players submit their votes in a few weeks for the American League All-Star pitching staff, those stats might well earn him his first trip to the Midsummer Classic.
For four innings Tuesday night at Kauffman Stadium, Scherzer was unhittable, recovering from two walks in a 26-pitch opening inning to retire 10 Royals in a row and protect an early lead built on Kelly's hit and extended on an RBI from Andy Dirks on a fielder's choice in the fifth.
"The first inning, I came out flat," Scherzer said. "I walked two hitters, and that's not typical of how I pitch. So for me, I need to crank up the tempo and crank up the intensity, come out on the attack. Once I made that adjustment, everything else kind of fell into place."
David Lough's first Major League home run broke up Scherzer's no-hit bid leading off the bottom of the inning, and then two solidly hit line drives to left plated Mike Moustakas with the tying run. From there, however, Scherzer recovered to retire the last seven batters he faced, promptly putting his offense back on the field.
Scherzer did all of it on a hot, humid evening that required a few wardrobe changes. He took the mound for the third inning wearing the aforementioned 2011 jersey with the right-arm patch remembering Anderson, who passed away in the previous offseason. By the seventh inning, Scherzer was wearing a jersey without the patch.
Scherzer was grabbing jerseys out of his locker every few innings, and the 2011 jersey made it in there by mistake.
"It's hot and humid," Scherzer said. "Otherwise, it gets heavy and it weighs on you. You want a nice, dry, consistent feel. That's why I changed it."
Said Leyland: "I don't usually worry too much about people's personal hygiene. In the middle of the game, I'm not worried if he stinks a little bit. It doesn't make a lot of difference."
Detroit missed a bases-loaded opportunity in the seventh when Aaron Crow struck out Torii Hunter, but Cabrera was hit by a pitch leading off the eighth to set the go-ahead rally in motion. Fielder worked the count full against Crow before his single to right sent Cabrera to third.
"Crow was a little slow home," Leyland said. "Of course, you're reluctant just to steal it, especially with Prince hitting. But when it went to 3-2, we knew that we had a good hitter up there, and if he gets a hit there, Miggy's going to get to third for sure."
Martinez lined the first pitch he saw to left, deep enough for Cabrera to score without a play at the plate. Joaquin Benoit held down the Royals in the eighth to set up Jose Valverde, who retired the middle of the lineup in order with the tying run on second for his ninth save.