October 15, 2019

Washington Nationals Game 160/161 Review: Scherzer Throws No-Hitter as Nats Sweep Mets

SCHERZER STRIKES OUT 17 IN NEAR-PERFECT GAME TWO AS NATIONALS SWEEP DOUBLEHEADER

Geoffrey: My you chivalric fool… as if the way one fell down mattered.
Richard: When the fall is all there is, it matters.

The Lion in Winter, James Goldman

I ran into a friend at the grocery store between games today. Tony’s a long-suffering DC sports fan, and as we passed each other in the parking lot, he said, “Of course, now we can beat the Mets.

That’s how a lot of Nats fans must have felt on Saturday.

Not Max Scherzer.

After a 3-1 victory in the first game against the Mets, the Nationals sent Scherzer to the mound for the nightcap, and Scherzer pitched as if the Nationals were still in it. They might not have been, but Scherzer could’ve fooled anyone.

Even the most meaningless baseball isn’t devoid of meaning.

Scherzer mounted a bravura performance, burning his way through the Mets’ lineup like a torch. Scherzer struck out 17 in the second game of the doubleheader, taking a perfect game into the sixth inning. A throwing error by Yunel Escobar cost Scherzer his perfect game, but it didn’t distract him. He deftly maneuvered around the damage and just kept retiring batters.

As the game’s pressure mounted, Scherzer responded with pitch after perfectly located pitch. Scherzer struck out nine in a row from the sixth inning onward. Terry Collins sent Yoenis Cespedes to the plate. He was blown away on a 96-mph fastball. Lucas Duda, pinch hitting for Carlos Torres, blown away on a 96-mph fastball. Curtis Granderson got his bat on the ball, but popped it up to short to cinch Scherzer’s place in baseball history. Again.

Scherzer joins Nolan Ryan, Virgil Trucks, Allie Reynolds and Johnny Vander Meer, pitching two no-hitters in the same season.

I have seen some dominant pitchers in my nearly 30 years of watching baseball. I saw Dave Stewart in his prime in Oakland, I saw him face Roger Clemens in his prime in Boston, and I’ve seen a number of others since then. Never have I seen a game like this one. Scherzer’s stuff was absolutely electric on Saturday night, despite the cold weather, despite the team’s disappointing season.

Despite, despite, despite.

If you look at Max Scherzer’s incredible record, it’s often despite disappointment that Scherzer pitched his best, and this was no exception. 109 pitches, 80 strikes. 17 Strikeouts. No Walks. Just two three-ball counts all night. Just complete domination of the playoff-bound New York Mets.

It was a welcome moment of jubilant celebration in a week that has felt more like a funeral. “There’s a difference between control and command,” said manager Matt Williams after the game, “and that was command.” Every pitch Scherzer threw on Saturday night went exactly where he willed it to go, as just two three-ball counts were registered all night showed.

In the end, it won’t change the standings, but it will soothe the hearts of despondent Nationals fans as we head into the brutal winter.

The early game saw Gio Gonzalez go six innings, allowing three walks and striking out seven. Gio scattered three hits, and while he never looked dominant, he was always sharp and always able to get out of a jam. Gio had his nasty curves and his inside fastballs working, and the Mets just couldn’t make hay while the sun was shining.

Gio gave way to Blake Treinen in the seventh, though he had a 1-0 lead when he departed. Treinen issued a leadoff walk to Lucas Duda on four pitches, and then struck out Travis d’Arnaud on three pitches, a microcosm of his inconsistent season. Ruben Tejada hit a soft liner to center to advance Duda, and that was Matt Williams’ cue to make a change.

With Curtis Granderson due up to pinch hit for Noah Syndergaard, Matt Grace came on to face the Mets’ burly lefty. Grace got a ground ball, but it wasn’t one that could be turned for a double play, and the Mets had runners at the corners. Juan Lagares stroked a 1-0 sinker into center field to tie the game. Rafael Martin came on to face David Wright, and got the Mets’ third baseman swinging to end the rally.

For the Nationals, it all came down to Clint Robinson’s bat. Literally. The 30-year-old rookie put the Nationals up 1-0 in the top of the seventh, and when likely-MVP Bryce Harper put the team ahead for good with a two-run upper deck blast in the eighth, he was using Robinson’s bat. Harper has struggled on this final road trip, getting just one hit in Atlanta, but grabbing Robinson’s bat, he crushed a 1-1 slider into the upper deck of the outfield, putting the Nationals on top 3-1.

Felipe Rivero worked a scoreless ninth to earn his second save of the year and give the Nats the first half of the doubleheader. The win was their 82nd of the year, guaranteeing a season over .500.

After a few hours’ rest, the Nationals ran out a lineup of replacements and the indomitable will of Max Scherzer. Harper, having been hit on the knee in game one gave way to Matt den Dekker. Tyler Moore gave Jayson Werth an evening off in left. Trea Turner gave Desmond a spell at short, and Wilmer Difo let Anthony Rendon keep warm in the dugout.

They were facing Matt Harvey and the N.L. East Champion Mets. Harvey was slated for five innings of tune-up work, and if the way he treated the Nationals on Saturday night was any example, the Dodgers are in for a rough row to hoe against him in the playoffs. Harvey had 10 strikeouts through five full, which was dominant enough to earn a sixth inning.

The sixth inning didn’t go as well as the previous five had.

Michael A. Taylor reached on a misplay by Kelly Johnson, unable to handle a line-drive to the hot corner. Taylor moved to third on a Clint Robinson single to the gap. Catcher Wilson Ramos hit a sacrifice fly deep enough to score Taylor and give the Nationals the lead. In the seventh, facing Hansel Robles, Dan Uggla hit his second homer of the year to put the Nationals up 2-0.

The last three innings were all Max Scherzer. Nothing else mattered.

As the final pop-out went into the air, Scherzer exulted, his defense sure-footed behind him, knowing that his work was done, and second no-hitter of 2015 was down in the books. A fist pump, a celebration, and a mob at the mound to close out his brilliant year.

Scherzer put together three monster games for the Nationals in 2015: a complete game one-hit shutout in June against the Brewers, a no-hitter against the Pirates in July, and a no-hitter against the Mets in October.

It wasn’t the October start that Nationals fans’ wanted from Scherzer, but it will be a welcome memory in a season that they would otherwise hurry to forget. That has intangible value that salary can’t begin to fathom. And the Nationals needed that, Saturday, more than anything else.

If the fall matters, when that is all that remains, Max Scherzer made it matter in the best possible way.

About Tom Bridge

Tom Bridge is a Staff Writer for District Sports Page covering the Nationals. Tom has been in love with baseball since he was 10. He is a founding editor of We Love DC, where he covered the Nationals and Capitals as a credentialed writer for four seasons. He grew up as an Oakland Athletics fan in the Central Valley in California, where he learned to appreciate Bill King, Mark McGwire and even Tony LaRussa. By day, he is a partner at Technolutionary LLC, where he handles IT operations. He cannot abide the Cardinals. You can follow Tom on Twitter @TomBridgeDSP.

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