5. Scherzer vs Pirates: Max Scherzer was one out away from a perfect game against the Pittsburgh Pirates on June 20th in the nation's capital when he hit since-DFA'd outfielder Jose Tabata with a slider inside that spoiled his bid for perfection.
Scherzer stayed focused and retired the next batter to complete his first and the Nats' second no-hitter since they returned to Washington in 2005 and the fourth no-hitter in D.C. baseball history.
Throwing a no-hitter was impressive enough, but throwing one against a talented team like the Pirates impressed his manager.
"It stands out that the Pirates are a good club and they've been playing extremely well," Matt Williams told reporters after Scherzer's historical outing. "Every time that Max takes the mound he's got a game plan and a way to get them out and he just exercised that again today."
"They were very aggressive today," Scherzer said. "I know they're a great fastball hitting team. Really when you look, throughout the first time through the order, they were swinging, they were very aggressive, at fastball and slider, so I think there was only maybe two guys that didn't swing first pitch, so I could tell their game plan and I was going to force their hand into their game plan so even though I knew they were going to be aggressive, I wanted to keep them aggressive and keep them hunting heaters and I wanted them to do that."
Scherzer, of course, forces hitters to be aggressive by pounding the strike zone like he did that day and has since.
From the last inning of his complete game shutout of the Milwaukee Brewers on June 14th, in the start before his no-hitter, through the first inning of his last start before tonight, against the Los Angeles Dodgers, the 30-year-old starter put together a stretch of 39 ⅔ innings without a walk, striking out 42 batters between free passes.
Since he last saw the Pirates, Scherzer was (2-3) in five starts, with a 3.03 ERA and a .215/.226/.377 line against in 35 ⅔ innings pitched before he took the mound tonight in Pittsburgh.
On the year heading into tonight's game, the Nationals' ace was (10-8) on the year with a 2.09 ERA, a 2.13 FIP, 15 walks (0.98 BB/9) and 158 Ks (10.30 K/9) in 19 starts and 138 IP.
Scherzer's second start of the season against the Pirates began with a quick, two K, 10-pitch, 1-2-3 first.
Jung Ho Kang singled to center with one down in the bottom of the second, and Pedro Alvarez followed with a two-run home run to right that ended up in the Allegheny River. 2-0 Pirates. 16-pitch second, 26 total after two.
Neil Walker singled to right with one down in the third, bringing Andrew McCutchen to the plate, but a fly to center ended an 18-pitch frame that left Scherzer at 44 total after three.
Starling Marte and Jung Ho Kang hit back-to-back singles to start the Pirates' fourth, but three outs later, both runners were stranded at the end of an 18-pitch frame. 62 total for Scherzer.
Scherzer walked pinch hitter Jaff Decker in the first at bat of the Pirates' fifth, then battled with Gregory Polanco in a 12-pitch at bat that ended when the Pirates' right fielder caught a hanging curve and hit a two-run blast to right to tie the game up at 4-4. Neil Walker followed with a solo shot on a 1-1 fastball, hitting it out of the yard. 5-4 Pittsburgh. 36-pitch frame, 98 total.
• Max Scherzer's Line: 5.0 IP, 7 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 1 BB, 8 Ks, 3 HRs, 98 P, 69 S, 4/1 GO/FO.
4. Locke vs D.C: Jeff Locke took the mound tonight in PNC Park with just one win in his last five starts, in spite of the fact that the 27-year-old lefty put up a respectable 2.15 ERA and a .261/.333/.270 line in 29 ⅓ innings pitched over that stretch.
He received just ten runs total of support in those outings, with six of the ten runs coming in a June 23rd loss.
On the year, the '06 Braves' 1st Round pick, acquired in a 2009 trade for Nate McLouth, was (5-6) in 18 starts before tonight's, with a 4.01 ERA, a 3.68 FIP, 38 walks (3.31 BB/9) and 78 Ks (6.79 K/9) in 101 ⅓ IP over which he's held opposing hitters to a combined .267/.341/.366 line.
The left-hander had one career start against the Nats before taking on Washington tonight, throwing 5 ⅔ scoreless against the Nationals last season in D.C., in what ended up a 4-3 loss in which he received no decision.
Locke's been much better at home in PNC Park this summer, with a (3-3) record, a 2.58 ERA, 3.30 FIP and .244/.315/.316 line against in 11 starts and 66 ⅓ innings pitched, as opposed to his (2-3) record, 6.57 ERA, 4.36 FIP and .305/.382/.450 line against in 37 IP outside of Pittsburgh.
Tonight's outing began with a quick, 10-pitch, 1-2-3 first for Locke. He added two Ks in a 14-pitch, 1-2-3 second that left him at [counts on fingers] 24 pitches. Locke was up to 34 pitches after he retired the Nationals in order in the top of the third.
Danny Espinosa walked with one down in the top of the fourth, spoiling Locke's bid for a perfect game, and Bryce Harper took the second straight free pass from the Pirates' lefty to put two on in front of Wilson Ramos, who stepped in with two on and hit an RBI single to center to bring Espinosa around, 2-1.
Harper took third on the hit. Ian Desmond took the third free pass of the fourth, loading them up for Tyler Moore, who hit a two-run double to center field to make it 3-2 Nationals. Dan Uggla hit a pop to short center on Locke's 35th pitch of the inning, and it dropped in for a hit that scored Desmond from third. 4-2 Nationals. 42-pitch frame. 76 pitches.
Bryce Harper turned a pop to right-center into a double, hustling around to second when the Pirates took their time getting to the ball, but he was stranded when WIlson Ramos lined out sharply to second to end a 12-pitch fifth by Locke. 88 total.
• Jeff Locke's Line: 5.0 IP, 4 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 3 BB, 5 Ks, 88 P, 57 S, 5/0 GO/FO.
3. Random Game Notes: With his home run last night, Ian Desmond became the second player in Nationals' history (2005-present) to reach 100 homer runs, joining Ryan Zimmerman as the only two Nats to do so.
• Clint Robinson was originally in the Nationals' lineup, but was scratched about 15 minutes before the start of the game with an unspecified illness.
• Max Scherzer took the mound tonight with a streak of 19-straight scoreless going against the Pirates, which stretched back to a June 23, 2012 start against Pittsburgh.
• For tonight's "Fun with Arbitrary End Points" segment, the Nationals are 17-10 since June 19th, with the second-best record in the NL over that stretch, behind only the Milwaukee Brewers (18-10).
• Bryce Harper has reached base in 20-straight games heading into tonight's matchup... but he still has not homered in PNC Park.
• The Pirates are 9-1 in their last ten games in PNC Park and 33-16 overall at home this season.
• The Pirates have won seven straight games and 16 of the last 17 when they score more than four runs in PNC.
• The Pirates have won three of their last four series against the Nationals in PNC Park.
• Starling Marte is 10 for his last 17, .588 AVG, in his last four games.
2. Turning Point(s): Nationals' starter Max Scherzer was up to 20-straight scoreless innings against the Pirates after a 1-2-3 first, but after a Jung Ho Kang single in the second, Pedro Alvarez got hold of a 93 mph 0-1 fastball and hit it out of PNC Park and into the Allegheny River for a two-run blast that ended Scherzer's streak and gave Pittsburgh a 2-0 lead.
• Pirates' starter Jeff Locke held the Nats' hitless through three, but gave up back-to-back, one-out walks to Danny Espinosa and Bryce Harper in the fourth and Wilson Ramos followed with an RBI line drive to center that broke up Locke's nascent no-hit bid and cut the Pirates' lead in half. 2-1 PIT.
• Locke started his outing with three hitless frames on 34 pitches, but back-to-back, one-out walks started a rally that resulted in the Nationals scoring four runs in a 42-pitch frame by the Pirates' lefty. Wilson Ramos hit an RBI single to center for the Nats' first hit. Tyler Moore drove in two with a double to center and another run scored when Dan Uggla hit a pop fly that fell in to short-center to drive in the fourth run. 4-2 Nationals after three and a half.
• Max Scherzer walked pinch hitter Jaff Decker in the first at bat of the Pirates' fifth, then battled with Gregory Polanco but couldn't put the outfielder away. The 12-pitch at bat ended when Polanco hit a hanging curve out to right for a two-run home run that tied things up at 4-4, and Neil Walker got hold of a 1-1 fastball in the next AB and hit it out of PNC. Solo blast. 5-4 Pirates.
• Ian Desmond hit his 100th career home run to center late in last night's series opener in PNC, and a half-inning after the Pirates took the lead tonight, the Nationals' shortstop connected for a solo home run that tied things up at 5-5. No.10 on the year, 101 of his career.
• A half-inning after the Nationals tied it up, the Pirates rallied with Francisco Cervelli singling off Sammy Solis with one down and scoring on an RBI double by Brent Morel, who scored on a single to center by Gregory Polanco to make it 7-5 Pirates.
1. The Wrap-Up: Vance Worley took over for the Pirates in the top of the sixth, and gave up a solo home run to center by Ian Desmond in the first at bat of the inning. Desmond's 10th of the season.
Sammy Solis took the mound for the Nationals in the Pirates' sixth, and gave up a one-out single to right by Francisco Cervelli and a two-out RBI double by Brent Morel, 6-5 Pittsburgh. Gregory Polanco singled to center in the next at bat to bring Morel around and make it a 7-5 game. 24-pitch frame.
Pirates' right-hander Jared Hughes pitched around Bryce Harper with two out and Michael Taylor on third, walking Harper in front of Wilson Ramos, who K'd swinging to end the frame.
Aaron Barrett gave up a leadoff single by Andrew McCutchen in the bottom of the seventh inning, but one out later, Jung Ho Kang grounded into an inning-ending DP. 12-pitch frame for Barrett.
Tony Watson threw a scoreless top of the eighth. Casey Janssen threw a scoreless bottom of the eighth. Still 7-5 PIT.
Mark Melancon came on looking for save no.31 of 2015. Emmanuel Burriss bunted his way on to bring the tying run to the plate in the form of Clint Robinson, who grounded into a 3-6-3 DP. Michael Taylor singled to left on a first-pitch fastball to keep hope alive, but Danny Espinosa rolled one back to the mound to end it.
Nationals now 51-44