DETROIT -- One call can turn a ballgame. One ball or a strike, even out of 119 pitches, can make a big difference.
When it's one ball out of 119 pitches before the end of the fifth inning, there's more concern out of the 119 than the one.
That's why there was far more concern about Max Scherzer than Rob Drake after the Tigers' 6-2 loss to the Yankees. It wasn't just the math. It was the mechanics. And it wasn't just Sunday.
"We walked way too many people," manager Jim Leyland said. "Major League pitchers are not supposed to do that, walk that many. He just couldn't command pitches."
Yes, there's a real case that Scherzer could've gotten a third strike and third out on Derek Jeter on a 2-2 pitch that drew a checked swing. The two runs that followed in that second inning wouldn't have had a chance to score had he gotten the call, just as Curtis Granderson wouldn't have gotten an add-on run if his drive to right-center field hadn't popped out of Austin Jackson's glove as Jackson's arm stretched over the fence and slammed into the railing over the Yankees' bullpen.
It would've been the catch of the year had Jackson hung on. It likely still wouldn't have been a gem of an outing for Scherzer, not the way he was struggling to locate all afternoon.
"Whenever you walk seven guys, it's hard to blame something other than yourself," Scherzer said.
With 119 pitches over 4 2/3 innings, Scherzer became the first American League pitcher since Victor Zambrano in 2004 to throw so many pitches without getting through the fifth inning, according to baseball-reference.com. Though some of those pitches didn't draw the call from home-plate umpire Drake, Scherzer missed his spots on many, even if he didn't miss wildly. Instead of missing over the plate and getting hit, he missed off of it and got baserunners.
"With the amount of movement that he has, it's very difficult to say I'm just going to wait until he throws me a strike," Granderson said.
As often as he was missing, even early, it was tough for him to expect to get a call on a borderline pitch. It was akin to a basketball player missing jumpers for most of the game, then driving the lane and expecting to draw a foul.
Catcher Gerald Laird lined up on the outside corner on the 2-2 pitch to Jeter, and Scherzer hit his spot on the 95-mph fastball.
"I thought that was a good pitch," Laird said. "but those guys [behind the plate] have a tough job. [Scherzer] hit exactly where I was sitting."
But his previous pitches hadn't given Drake reason to give him the benefit of the doubt.
"That's all excuse stuff," Leyland said. "That Jeter pitch was a close pitch, but when you're that wild, you're not going to get close pitches."
In fact, when the count went full, he never got it. Jeter hit the payoff pitch deep enough into the hole that all shortstop Ramon Santiago could do was smother it to keep the runner at third. Scherzer's ensuing walk to Granderson, also on a full count, drove in the run. Alex Rodriguez's dribbler down the third-base line scored another.
Scherzer went to seven full counts out of the 28 batters he faced. All of them reached base -- including Granderson on his home run, which was the only extra-base hit Scherzer allowed.
Yet Scherzer still made outs. He and reliever Luke Putkonen, making his big league debut, stranded 14 runners through six innings. The maximum possible amount of runners stranded would've been 18.
That's how a starter throws that many pitches in that little time. That's how a game that was still within reach felt so out of reach for them.
"When you have a game like today, when a pitcher's pitching like Scherzer, it slows a whole game down to a crawl," Leyland said. "I mean, your infielders are standing out there when you're walking people. When that happens to any pitcher, that's a nightmare. I mean, you'd like to see the pace of the game going."
When Leyland was asked whether Scherzer's issues were mechanical or something else, he deferred to Scherzer, who indicated it was mechanical.
"I was struggling all day with command of the fastball," he said. "I was just flying open with my front side. The ball felt like a cue ball today. I just wasn't able to consistently pound the zone."
The loss closed a wildly turbulent month for Scherzer (1-3), who came into the season looking to find his midseason form early, but has struggled to find any consistency. He allowed 21 runs on 37 hits over 24 1/3 April innings, with 13 walks and 27 strikeouts.
"Max is a huge key for us," Leyland said. "It has to get better, plain and simple."