Now-former Washington Nationals' manager Matt Williams and Max Scherzer crossed paths briefly years before the 30-going-on-31-year-old right-hander signed with the Williams-led Nats last winter, agreeing on a 7-year/$210M free agent deal.
Williams spent a few weeks managing at Double-A Mobile in the Arizona Diamondbacks' system back in 2007 when BayBears' skipper Brett Butler suffered a mild stroke.
Scherzer, the D-Backs' '06 1st Round pick, was working his way up through the organization's minor league affiliates back then.
Before Scherzer took the mound against the Pittsburgh Pirates on June 20, 2015, Williams was asked what stood out for him about the right-hander back in 2007, and what special qualities he saw in eleventh overall pick of the 2006 draft back then?
"Tenacity," Williams told reporters.
"Tenacity is the key. He's a fun-loving guy for four days a week and then the fifth day when he pitches, he's a different animal. He's just tenacious. He has a plan. He understands what he needs to do to get guys out, he studies it really hard and when he steps on the mound he commands the plate and throws it where he wants to. He gives us a chance to win that ballgame every time he goes out there, so hopefully it's the same case today and see what we can do."
What Scherzer did that day was retire the first 26 batters he faced before a hit-by-pitch on Pirates' outfielder Jose Tabata spoiled the first-year Nationals' bid for the first perfect game in D.C. baseball history.
Scherzer recovered quickly from the disappointment of his opportunity for a perfect game ending in questionable fashion and retired the next batter he faced, giving the right-hander the first no-hitter of his career and the fourth no-hitter by a Washington-based pitcher after Walter Johnson (1920), Bobby Burke in (1931) and Jordan Zimmermann (2014).
Staying focused and moving on after Tabata leaned into the two-strike slider, Scherzer said, was, "Pretty easy to do."
"Probably took two seconds," he told reporters afterwards. "I realized I lost the perfect game, just move on, finish this thing out."
What he regretted, Scherzer explained, was not that his bid for perfection was spoiled, but that the pitch he went with got away from him.
"I know slider is the right pitch," he said. "I could have gone changeup as well, but the slider just kind of slipped -- not slipped -- but I just didn't finish the pitch and it backed up on me and clipped him.
"It's just one of things that happened. You just focus on what you can do next, just move on to the next hitter and just go right after [Josh] Harrison and do everything you can do and just pound him with fastballs and I was able to collect that final out."
Williams was asked if he'd considered going out to argue that Tabata leaned into the slider?
"The last thing I'm going to do is walk on the field and mess up Max's rhythm," Williams said. "That would be a crying shame. I ain't doing that."
After a complete shutout of the Milwaukee Brewers in his previous start, which saw him take a no-hit bid into the bottom of the seventh, Williams was asked (jokingly... sort of) if the game plan each time Scherzer took the mound at that point focused on the right-hander throwing a no-hitter?
"We can't expect that, certainly," Williams said. "But what a day. Great day, great crowd, beat the weather, the weather was ominous all day long. It's a little hairy going into the game knowing that there are thunderstorms around and pretty soon we're going to get hit pretty hard with a tropical depression. But we can't expect that every time, but he certainly has a game plan when he walks out there."
Williams was also asked again after the game how the pitcher Scherzer was now compared to the pitcher he'd seen eight years earlier when they spent time together in Alabama?
"As a young man, he was very tenacious," Williams said.
"That continues. You can see that with some of his mannerisms on the mound. He's aggressive and over time he has learned... how to expand when he needs to, how to manage pitch counts and get deep in ballgames. So that's the maturity that he's gone through and the maturity of a pitcher as he becomes a veteran that has the kind of stuff that he has. He can manage those pitch counts early, get early outs and go deep into ballgames, the last two have been examples of that."
Scherzer threw 106 pitches total in the no-hitter, 82 of them strikes, collecting 10 Ks total (after striking out 16 in the start vs the Brewers).
"Command in the zone, command out of the zone," Williams said in discussing Scherzer's stuff.
"Throwing it where he needs to to get strikes, and then climbing the ladder, expanding when he needs to as well. We saw a lot of that in the last two starts that he's had."
The entire day and particularly the last few minutes of the no-hitter were extraordinary Williams explained, with the entire crowd in the nation's capital hanging on every pitch and pulling for Scherzer to get it done.
"I know there was -- what's the max capacity here? -- 41,000 people on their feet from the time he went out for the ninth," Williams said. "That's a very good feeling for our club. Max was fantastic all day."
When Scherzer popped Harrison up to end the game he was mobbed on the field by his teammates.
"Cloud nine," Scherzer said when asked to describe the moment.
"When you can celebrate with your teammates on just a major accomplishment, there's nothing better. When everybody wants to celebrate with you and dump the Gatorade, pour the chocolate syrup.
"How many bottles of chocolate syrup did we have? I felt like I got like three bottles?"
"Six," a reporter said.
"Six bottles? Good God!"
"I thought it was three. So I had six bottles of chocolate syrup all over me. That's just a great feeling. I can't describe it. It's a cloud nine moment."