A mix of Washington Nationals and quite a few Baltimore Orioles fans filled Nationals Park last Thursday night in the fourth game of the four-game home-and-home series between the regional rivals.
After dropping the first three games to the Orioles, the Nationals, behind a stellar Max Scherzer, took a 1-0 lead into the eighth inning of the series finale before the O’s tried to rally, with a leadoff single by Mark Trumbo finally giving the Orioles fans a reason to cheer.
Scherzer did not like that. He did not like that at all.
He struck out the next two batters, Jonathan Schoop and Matt Wieters, yelling to/at himself as he did, and got out No. 3 on a fly to deep center by J.J. Hardy that ended the inning, stranding Trumbo at second.
The Nationals rallied for three runs in the bottom of the inning in what ended up a 4-0 win.
In an interview on 106.7 the FAN in D.C. the next morning, Scherzer talked about his outward display of emotion on the mound the previous night in the nation’s capital.
‘It was just one of those things; it was the eighth inning, and we were winning the ballgame and I just remember hearing the Orioles fans,” Scherzer said, as quoted by Washington Post writer Dan Steinberg:
“I mean, they’re obviously going to be there. You know it’s a great rivalry. But it just felt like it got really loud considering the situation.
To have that many O’s fans cheering at that point in time, man, I didn’t like that. I’m not gonna lie.”
“When you’re in your home park, you want your home fans cheering for you, not the opposing fans,” Scherzer said.
“So when I heard that, that definitely ticked me off and I definitely wanted to do something about that. And that put the full adrenaline in.”
Opposing hitters probably don’t like Scherzer when he’s angry and motivated.
Nats’ skipper Dusty Baker said the outing, in which Scherzer struck out 10 over his eight scoreless innings, reminded him of Scherzer’s 20 K start against the Detroit Tigers earlier this season.
“He was similar to when he pitched against the Tigers,” Baker said.
“He was very determined. The Tigers had a powerful offense, these guys had a powerful offense.
“He threw his fastball where he wanted it and then he threw his breaking ball near or out of the zone and he had some good changeups against the left-handers and [Jose] Lobaton called a heck of a game for him. It’s hard to shut those guys out.”
As for Baker’s take on Scherzer’s animated demeanor?
“I played with some crazy guys like that,” Baker said.
“Like Bobby Welch and [Rick] Sutcliffe and those guys and most of them are a little bit cooler than Max generally, but he’s a fierce competitor and sometimes he can rub the opposition the wrong way, but he really doesn’t care because that’s Max, that’s how he is all the time.
“He’s a pleasure to watch then afterwards he starts talking and it’s hard to stop Max from talking. You know he was psyched for that game.”
There was none of the energy of that series in D.C. in South Philadelphia on Monday night in the series opener with the Phillies, and there was a similarly reserved crowd for the second of three in Citizens Bank Park on Tuesday, so the Nationals, as Baker explained, had to create their own excitement.
“Kind of a low-energy game,” he said after the win in the first of three.
“It was low-energy. There weren’t many people here like usual, so we had to come up with our own energy.”
Scherzer was stomping around the mound early in the second of three in CBP, striking out four of the first six batters he faced in two scoreless and hitless frames.
He was up to six Ks after he added two in a 10-pitch, 1-2-3 third inning that left him at 30 pitches total after three.
His nine-pitch, 1-2-3 fourth gave Scherzer four hitless innings.
A one-out walk in the fifth spoiled Scherzer’s bid for perfection, but he set the next two down in a 14-pitch frame that left him at 53 pitches overall after five hitless frames.
Freddy Galvis doubled to right on an 0-2 fastball in the first at bat of the Philly sixth, however, spoiling Scherzer’s bid for a third career no-hitter, and Ryan Howard ruined Scherzer’s bid for a shutout with a two-run home run in the seventh on an 0-1 fastball outside Howard powered out to left.
Scherzer finished the night with 11 Ks from the 27 batters he faced in eight innings, giving up three hits, a walk and two earned runs in a 102-pitch effort in which he earned his 15th win of the season, (W, 15-7).
Baker said that at this point you do have to accept that Scherzer could do something special every time out.
“I mean, that’s why he’s Max,” Baker told reporters after the game.
“We know we’ve got a good chance to win when Max pitches and he has a good chance of going deep in the game.
“He just got that ball down and away from Howard and man, that’s Howard’s power out there. Well, anywhere is his power, but I’ve seen him hit that ball over the left field fence a whole bunch of times. And Max had had a lot of success against Howard in his career.”
Howard was just 1 for 18 with 11 Ks against Scherzer before last night, and he’d gone 0 for 2 with two more strikeouts before the home run.
Baker admitted that he did start to think Scherzer might be having one of those nights when he started piling up hitless innings.
“If a guy has done it a number of times — it’s different if a guy hasn’t done it,” Baker said, “but about the fourth or fifth the way he was dealing, his pitch count was low, right away I’m sure everybody on the team is thinking it because they’ve seen it before. Then he walked the first batter and after that he settled right back down again, and so, boy that was a great game by Max.”
“Scherzer was tough,” Phillies’ skipper Pete Mackanin said after the Phils’ eighth straight loss to the Nationals.
“You’ve got to give him credit, he’s got what, 60-less hits than innings pitched, he’s a tough cookie.”
Sixty-two less hits than innings pitched, actually, after last night.
Baker said there wasn’t any one thing that stood out for him that allowed Scherzer to put together such a strong start.
“It was an assortment of things,” he explained.
“Like he had a great fastball and he had an excellent slider, had a good changeup, and he was around the strike zone, that makes everything look like a fastball.”
And he had a relatively free-swinging opponent that he took advantage of for most of the night in the City of Brotherly Love.