Max Scherzer flirted with a no-hitter in his 16-strikeout start against the Milwaukee Brewers... in the outing before he threw a no-hitter against the Pittsburgh Pirates in June of 2015, when he came a controversial hit-by-pitch away from a perfect game.
Later that season, he struck out 12 batters in a start against the Baltimore Orioles, and took a no-hit bid into the eighth inning against the Cincinnati Reds, before he tossed a second no-hitter, striking out 17 batters in his last start of the season against the New York Mets.
As his first postseason run with the Nationals approached late last September/October, Scherzer put together nine-start unbeaten streak, going (8-0) over that stretch, which saw him post a 2.97 ERA, 15 walks (2.23 BB/9), 73 Ks (10.83 K/9) and a .212/.266/.363 line against in 60 2⁄3 innings pitched.
Dusty Baker was asked this weekend about the streaks Scherzer has gone on over the last few years, and how the ability to turn it on for long stretches was a characteristic of some great pitchers in the history of the game.
“Yeah, you look at [Sandy] Koufax and [Don] Drysdale... [Steve] Carlton,” Baker said, “... and look at some of these guys, Nolan Ryan, yeah, that’s a big characteristic, that’s like going through a hot streak as a hitter, except you’re pitching once every five days versus a guy who has a 30-game hit streak. One thing feeds on another and then next thing you know you’re operating at a top, top, top level mentally and physically and spiritually, you’re operating a high level, especially a high level of success.”
Scherzer was caught on camera “motivating” himself with some R rated language during his previous start before this afternoon’s outing against the Texas Rangers, pumping himself up as he fought through a seven-inning performance on the hill during the series in Los Angeles.
Baker was asked if that sort of internal/external motivational dialogue was also a characteristic of some of the greats he’s seen and played with or against.
“Of some guys,” he said. “Alex Johnson used to sing to himself at the plate for rhythm.
“Nobody talked to themselves more than Rickey Henderson. Rickey not only talked to himself, but he called his name. He said, ‘C’mon, Rickey. You know you’re better than that. C’mon, Rickey.’ I’ve seen Rico Carty talk to himself.
“I tell guys to talk to themselves, because sometimes you can talk yourself into stuff.
“You know what I mean? That don’t bother me. Sometimes you can figure some stuff out talking to yourself.”
Scherzer was on another of his streaks heading into the series finale with the Rangers, with an 8 2⁄3 inning start at home against the San Diego Padres in which he’d collected 13 Ks, a complete game against the San Francisco Giants in which he struck out 11, and the seven-inning start in LA in which he struck out a total of 14 Dodgers’ hitters.
On Sunday afternoon in D.C., the 32-year-old, two-time Cy Young award winner reached a career milestone, with his fifth strikeout of the day the 2,000th K of his career, lifting him into a tie with Andy Benes for No. 69 on the list of Major League Baseball’s All-time strikeout leaders.
Scherzer was third-fastest pitcher (in innings pitched) to reach 2,000 K, recording his milestone strikeout in 1,784th inning (1,784.0). behind only Pedro Martinez (1711.1 IP), 2nd: LHP Randy Johnson (1733.1 IP).
With his 10th K against the Rangers, for the second out of the Rangers’ half of the seventh, Scherzer reached double-digits in Ks for the fourth straight start, and the seventh time this year, and the 56th time in his career.
He came back out for the eighth in a 1-1 game, but Delino Deshields reached on a one-out error, and Jurickson Profar reached on a walk, bringing Shin-Soo Choo to the plate.
Choo, who singled off Scherzer in the first, and homered off the Nats’ starter in the third, before grounding out the third time up, was 14 for 24 career vs Scherzer (.385 AVG) in their respective careers at that point, so Baker went to the pen.
Oliver Perez took over and walked Choo (after a double steal), loading the bases, and Blake Treinen came on looking for a double play, but crossed up Matt Wieters with his first offering, resulting in a wild pitch that allowed the go-ahead run to score, 2-1, and the grounder he wanted ended up being a chopper that bounced up and over third for a two-run triple that put the Rangers up, 4-1, before a sac fly made it 5-1.
“He gave us all we had,” Dusty Baker said when asked about Scherzer’s outing after the loss.
“We had to go get him in the eighth,” he continued. “That ball took an uneven hop on Anthony [Rendon] and one of the fastest men in the world just so happened to be running, and then the walk to Profar and you know they’re going to double steal, but you couldn’t do a whole bunch about it.
“That kind of set it up for Choo, who’s hitting career-wise .600 off of Max, you know what I mean, is Max’s probably — that’s his nemesis so far, from the American League — and so we brought in Treinen to try to get a double play, because he’s our best double play guy.
“The ground ball, and then the wild pitch, and then the high hopper down the line, it was just a series of bad events. We tried to get the ground ball, which we did, but it found a hole and they were off and running.”
It didn’t help that the Nationals couldn’t get much off Rangers’ starter Austin Bibens-Dirkx, who gave up a leadoff home run by Brian Goodwin and a single by Bryce Harper in the first two at bats of the home first, then retired 19-straight batters before he allowed a two-out single by Anthony Rendon and a walk to Adam Lind, both of whom were stranded one out later.
“[Scherzer] gave us a bunch of quality,” Baker told reporters, “but like I’ve said before, whoever pitches against Max is going to pitch their best game ever because they know they can’t give up much.”