Dusty Baker and Max Scherzer had a long, animated conversation on the mound before Washington’s manager lifted the Nationals’ ace from Game 3 of the NLDS with one on and one out in the seventh inning of a 1-0 game in the Nationals’ favor in Wrigley Field.
Scherzer, who told reporters he thought he would be good to go to around 100 pitches in his first outing after injuring his right hamstring in his final regular season start, was up to 98 after allowing the first hit of the game by the Cubs on a 1-0 fastball Chicago’s utility man Ben Zobrist lined to left field.
With Kyle Schwarber due up, Baker went to left-hander Sammy Solis, so Cubs’ skipper Joe Maddon countered with pinch hitter Albert Almora, Jr., who lined a 3-2 changeup up in the zone to left for a game-tying RBI single, 1-1.
“Well, it was very difficult,” Baker said of the decision to lift Scherzer, “but you know, we thought Max had had enough, especially coming off the injury, and you know, Schwarber is a dangerous man. I probably couldn't live with myself if Schwarber had hit one out of the park on you, which he's dangerous to do that.
“So we thought we made the right decision. You know, [Solis] got a changeup up to Almora and you know, that was, you know -- they continue to get the clutch hits. You know, we haven't gotten them, yet. But we will.”
Scherzer did, of course, have a no-hitter before Zobrist’s double to left, so was there something that Baker and his coaches saw that led them to make the decision?
Scherzer said it was "50/50" call to stay in game or not. Defended Dusty's decision to remove him there.— Mark Zuckerman (@MarkZuckerman) October 9, 2017
“No, but he was at a hundred pitches, and he had not been that far in a while,” Baker explained.
“Like I said, Schwarber is a dangerous hitter. You know, if [Solis] made the pitch, then you know, we wouldn't be talking about it. But this -- you know, just sometimes, you can't throw the ball where you want to throw it.”
An inning later, Brandon Kintzler, who’d finished off the seventh, came back out for the eighth and gave up a leadoff walk to Tommy La Stella. Leonys Martin took over at first base for La Stella, moved up on a sac bunt by Jon Jay, and scored one out later when a blooper by Anthony Rizzo off Oliver Perez fell in between Trea Turner, Michael A. Taylor and Jayson Werth for a go-ahead single.
Baker was asked if he considered other options than going at Rizzo with Perez.
“Well, the other option might have been to walk him,” he said, “and then pitch to [Willson] Contreras, but Contreras, like early in the series -- like I said, [Contreras] is really dangerous with the runners in scoring position and two outs.
“So you've got to pick one of the two, and you know, [Rizzo] blooped the ball in there. It was a clean hit but it was a blooper, and I thought that we had a chance to catch it.”
Taylor took responsibility for bloop. Said that can't fall with three guys standing on their feet. Felt as CF, he should've done something.— Chelsea Janes (@chelsea_janes) October 10, 2017
Cubs’ skipper Joe Maddon was asked if he expected the Nationals to walk Rizzo with first base open.
“I had no idea. Honestly, I had no idea,” he said. “I knew they had a lefty up in the bullpen and they had a righty -- I think part of that is Willson, a big part of that is Willson. If you watched us throughout the season, Willy has been, wow -- man, if he didn't get hurt, he would have had a hundred RBIs or something really close and a bunch more homers. You watch his at bats, he's not expanding the strike zone.
“He's a tough out right there. I think to choose to pitch to Rizzo there is based on Willson.”
Rizzo said his emotional reaction after the hit (cameras caught him screaming what looked like “Respect me,” after the hit) was in part based on the Nats’ decision to challenge him.
“Yeah, that's the mentality I take always with the base open. I want to make guys pay,” he said.
“I hit where I hit in the order. I drive in runs, and that's just the mentality that I always take in.
“Usually I keep that stuff behind the scenes and say that stuff, but just my emotions got me there.
“But you know, that's the mentality. I believe I'm a really good hitter. I believe I'm one of the best hitters in the game and you have to believe that. You have to believe in that. There's a lot of power that comes with that?”
Rizzo’s hit put the Cubs up 2-1 after eight, and Chicago’s closer Wade Davis closed things out with a 1-2-3 ninth inning that put Chicago up 2-1 in the NLDS.