DETROIT — Max Scherzer spoke enthusiastically, and convincingly, Saturday of his excitement to pitch tonight for the Tigers in the World Series.
"The start of a lifetime," he called it.
But Scherzer will also do so with sadness, as he has 20 other times this year since the devastating June news that his younger brother, Alex, had killed himself.
"That was the most difficult time of my life," Scherzer said, softly. "For me, I just learned to live life as happy as I can. Put a smile on everybody's face. For my family, when I play baseball, it puts a smile on everybody's face."
That was why two days after, Scherzer rejoined the Tigers in Pittsburgh and pitched. Painfully, more so than he imagined, Alex on his mind literally with each of his 100 pitches. His family had told him he should go, that it would be good for him. He said he'd do it, but only if they came, too, so his parents, an aunt and a cousin went with. That he lost, 4-1, far from mattered.
"I'm glad I pitched," he said. "That was the most difficult start I ever made. … (But) it was an important thing at that time for my family for me to be able to go out there and do that."
Three days later, Max spoke for the first time about his brother, who was 24 and had recently earned an MBA from the University of Missouri and begun working for Morgan Stanley in St. Louis.
He read from a statement about Alex's brilliance and great sense of humor. Of how he always knew how to leave Max with a smile on his face, or laughing out loud. Of their regular debates — over sports, politics, or anything else — and how Alex always insisted he was right.
"Alex made this world a better place and anybody I have ever talked to that knew him could only say how much fun they had being around him," Scherzer said. "Alex was the best brother I could have asked for and he will always be missed."
Scherzer, 28, started two days later at the Trop and beat the Rays, headed home to St. Louis for a memorial service and has been back with the team ever since.
Despite some minor injuries — a hamstring he tweaked running at the Trop, a sore shoulder, an ankle he tweaked in the Tigers' division-clinching celebration — he has pitched incredibly well: 10-2, 2.61 from the Rays win on, plus two strong playoff starts, going 1-0, 0.82 with 18 strikeouts vs. the A's and the clincher against the Yankees. He says the difference is better fastball location.
His teammates marvel at how he has gone forward.
"It's a testament to him and his family," DH Delmon Young said. "That's one of the hardest things you'll ever have to deal with in life, and it can destroy you throughout the whole season. Especially being gone on the road, sitting in your room, and dwelling on it. But I think since that point on he's been one of the best pitchers in baseball."
"I commend him for being able to pull through and perform the way he has," starter Doug Fister said. "Finding a sense of normalcy is a big thing, and I think coming to work every day and being able to come to the ballpark has really helped him out."
As horrible as the experience has been, Scherzer said he, too, has found some solace.
"I'm playing the game I love," Scherzer said. "Life goes on no matter what happens. And the sun always comes up, so you better have a positive outlook on life, and a positive outlook on what to do with your life. So for me, right now, playing baseball puts a smile on everybody's face."