In the end, Max Scherzer and the Nationals made history, but it wasn’t to the level those of us watching at home or those in attendance at Citizens Bank Park were expecting. No. The way Scherzer was dealing Friday night a second straight no-hitter was not only possible it was becoming increasingly likely. He was facing the Phillies after all, a team collectively batting .241 and tied with the worst wRC+ in the business, and Scherzer was mixing an easy 96 fourseamer with a changeup that had to send Ryan Howard for an ice bath afterward. You know, from the way he whiffed uncomfortably expecting the heat.
My back hurt from those swings.
Of course early on you hoped for it. Maybe not everyone. Phillies fans certainly didn’t, but I suspect by the fifth or six inning they might have been cheering too. By the fourth inning I actually started to believe Scherzer was going to do it. Up until then it was difficult to tell if Scherzer had his good stuff. He’d thrown only 25 pitches through the first three innings as the Phillies batters were hyper aggressive. See pitch. Swing. Ground out to Dan Uggla. How could you tell? In the fourth, however, Scherzer through a 2-1 slider to Cesar Hernandez that made me take notice. Oh, well now. He might just have it working after all. Scherzer followed up that slider with a change that started low and then just dove for the dirt. The movement was inexplicable. The result was a strikeout. After the fourth Scherzer dropped in curveballs for fun. They broke sharply with nasty bite. Honestly, not to wax poetic here, but it was like watching a cartoon of a composer with the notes floating across the screen. If this guy could throw those pitches in any count what chance did the Phillies have?
Remember that thought.
There was no reason to believe the sixth inning would stop the no-hitter. This was the Nats night. The baseball gods had decreed this the night that history be made. Matt den Dekker hit his first home run as a Nat in the top of the inning to make it 5-0, so the stars were aligned, I was happy (another 2010 draftee!), and Scherzer had about four more runs than he likely needed to put away the Phils.
I have to admit that when I watch baseball I get giddy watching the pitchers. I love it. I love watching batters try to figure out what they’re going to do with a guy who stands 6’ 3 and is full of fury and bad intentions only 60 feet away. There’s no time to figure out if it’s a fastball or a changeup. You just guess. Think of the sixth, then, as me standing in front of my television (feeling horrible with some sort of allergy attack, cold, deep-seated fear it’s strep) practically bouncing at this point. Rest? I can’t sit still. I’ll fidget. I might as well stand and pretend these achy muscles are getting some work.
Scherzer threw Cameron Rupp a 3-2 fastball that hit the outside black. Swinging strike three. That’s not really all that important. It doesn’t sound particularly impressive. There was no way Rupp was hitting that pitch. Not with a golf club. Not with a cricket bat. Not with a kayak paddle. That pitch was so perfectly placed, moving at 95-mph, and Rupp waved at it helplessly. My favorite part of that sequence was when he looked back at home plate umpire Jordan Baker—the typical “Was it a strike” question that batters always ask—and I almost expected Baker to fall down in hysterics.
Scherzer then started the number eight hitter Freddy Galvis with a curve on the outside corner. Strike one. When the game started I thought the two hitters that could screw this up for Scherzer were Galvis and Odubel Herrera. After a fastball up and away, Scherzer came back with a slider that didn’t break and Galvis drove it into the right field corner for a double. No more no-no.
Johnny Vander Meer’s moments of glory live on. Maybe that’s for the best.
The scoreless innings streak ended one inning later. With two outs in the seventh (after Scherzer had worked hard to keep a lead off double by Hernandez from hurting him) Domonic Brown doubled to deep left center. The second longest scoreless streak in the expansion era (since 1962) ended at 47 1/3 innings.
The Nationals were one foot away from that streak lasting another inning, however. Brown’s foul ball three pitches prior missed Clint Robinson’s sliding glove by about a foot. Sometimes it’s that close.
I was surprised that Matt Williams kept Scherzer in to pitch the eighth. He looked gassed. He’d thrown 82 pitches before Cody Asche worked a nine pitch at-bat, squibbed an infield single, and then Scherzer got Rupp to pop out. Maybe he was at 94 pitches, is your staff ace, and earns an obscene amount of money, but what in the hell was Williams doing putting Scherzer back out there in the eighth? What did Scherzer have left to prove? It was clear that the back-to-back complete games (he had one total before this year), the no-hitter that wasn’t, the perfect game that wasn’t, and last night had exhausted him.
Maybe Williams won’t be happy until he adds Scherzer to the disabled list too. Doug Fister and Stephen Strasburg just returned from DL stints. I guess with six starting pitchers, there’s some roster flexibility.
In the end, the Nationals won 5-2 and Scherzer picked up his 100th career victory. Maybe the latter stages of the game weren’t things of beauty, but it was beautiful while it lasted.