MINNEAPOLIS -- Max Scherzer said he was going to treat the chance to clinch another American League Central title like a World Series start. He ended up putting an exclamation point on his career season.
Scherzer spent half the season calling his wins and losses fluky. Then he spent the second half calling his victories a team accomplishment. The 1-0 win he delivered with seven shutout innings Wednesday night against the Twins at Target Field was a lot about him, no matter how much he tried to deflect the attention.
"Tonight he showed why he's the Cy Young winner," manager Jim Leyland said. "I don't vote, but if that doesn't get him over the hump, I don't know what does."
The man with the highest run support in baseball closed out his season with a low-scoring gem, but it wasn't at the front of Scherzer's mind as he celebrated in a champagne-soaked clubhouse. Nor was his 21st win a big priority. He wanted to enjoy the division title with his teammates. He just happened to deliver seven shutout innings to help finish it off.
"There's not one person that you celebrate more than the other," Scherzer said. "We have 24 other guys in here that play so hard, that play with intensity, that have talent, produce in the field. It's a treat to be in this organization and be in this clubhouse with these guys."
Scherzer wanted to set up this celebration. When the Tigers lowered their magic number to one Tuesday night, Scherzer said he was going to treat the potential clincher like a playoff start. The way Scherzer reacted to each third out, he seemingly took that approach to the mound.
As early as the opening inning, Scherzer was charged up, slapping his glove after getting Josmil Pinto to strike out and strand runners at the corners following two walks.
That wasn't motivation, he said later. That was aggravation, and it came out in a way maybe the late Mark Fidrych could have appreciated.
"I was frustrated with myself at that point in the game," Scherzer said, "because I was walking guys, pitching behind in the count. I was able to get a big strikeout in that situation. So I was just like, 'Let's go! Pick it up!'
"I said every four-letter word I can say to myself. I said, 'Bring the intensity,' with four-letter words. I felt like I was able to do that. Even though I was walking guys and not pitching efficiently, with runners on base I was able to make big pitches."
The intensity wasn't a problem. Catcher Alex Avila actually worried his pitcher had too much of it.
"He was so jacked up for this game. I know, because he wanted to get it done, that he might have been a little overamped, which made him a little erratic," Avila said. "I mean, there was a stretch there in the middle of the game where we were pumping fastballs. He was so electric with his fastball and we got into a groove with it, and every once in a while, he would kind of lose command.
"Being able to battle through that, that was huge. It showed a lot about how he's grown as a pitcher."
Scherzer retired nine in a row from there, six by strikeout, primarily with fastball. He still didn't have his best command. Once that roll ended with a two-out walk to Pinto and an infield single from Chris Parmelee, Scherzer escaped another jam with a Chris Herrmann popout to third.
"Scherzer was tough," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "It looked like early he was trying to find it, but once he got rolling like [Justin] Verlander the other day and found his pitches and his release point, the ball was diving everywhere."
Scherzer practically bounced off the mound when Alex Avila threw out Pedro Florimon trying to steal third for a strike 'em out, throw 'em out double play to end a fifth-inning opportunity.
"That might have been one of the differences in the game," Scherzer said.
Scherzer threw 108 pitches over his first six innings, but with Detroit's bullpen short, all Leyland needed to know was whether he had enough for the seventh. Around the same time, his teammates were forming a huddle at the other end of the dugout, trying to raise their intensity with nine outs to go.
It looked like a football game more than a pennant race.
"I said, 'Hey, we need to get something going,' because [Kevin] Correia was pitching good," said Torii Hunter, who organized the dugout scrum. "His ball was moving all over the place and we were trying to get something going with him. Just a little something to push."
The Tigers had hits off Correia (9-13), but no runners in scoring position after the opening inning. Thus, Austin Jackson's triple leading off the game and Hunter's ensuing single through the middle stood as the difference.
Scherzer and the bullpen was going to have to carry this one. Scherzer didn't need a huddle for that.
"I was able to find a way to pitch through the sixth and pitch through the seventh when I wasn't at my best, and sometimes that's what you have to do," Scherzer said.
His season-high sixth walk of the night put Herrmann on to lead off the seventh inning and sent his pitch count past 110. Darin Mastroianni sacrificed Herrmann over to second with the potential tying run before Pedro Florimon flew out to left.
Alex Presley battled Scherzer for six pitches, pushing him past 120. Once Scherzer (21-3) saw left fielder Andy Dirks tracking Florimon's fly ball to end the inning, he was charging off the mound in appreciation.
Scherzer finishes the year with the highest winning percentage of a 20-game winner since Cliff Lee went 22-3 in 2008 with the Indians.
Asked if a 1-0 win means more, though, Scherzer shook his head.
"The win doesn't," he said. "The clinch means most, because that's a team thing. You get to pop champagne, smoke cigars and get a hangover with your teammates."