Max Scherzer talked after facing off against Clayton Kershaw about getting up for matchups with the best of the best.
“Yeah, I mean, isn’t that obvious?” Scherzer said, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman.
“I mean, yeah. I’ve always said you don’t measure yourself against the worst. You measure yourself against the best.”
Scherzer outdueled his fellow three-time Cy Young award winner in Los Angeles, holding the Dodgers to one run on four hits in six innings to earn the win.
On Sunday afternoon, the Nationals’ right-hander, who’d won five straight starts, was facing off against another former Cy Young winner, Jake Arrieta, who signed a 3-year/$75M free agent deal with Philadelphia this Spring, three years removed from winning his Cy Young in 2015.
Scherzer, 33, who won the Cy Young in each of the last two seasons, was off to a solid start again this season, with a (6-1) record, a 1.79 ERA, a 2.02 FIP, 11 walks (2.18 BB/9), 65 Ks (12.90 K/9), and a .162/.224/.298 line against in 45 1⁄3 innings pitched before the series finale with the Phillies.
Arrieta, 32, was (3-1) with a 3.49 ERA, 3.27 FIP, 10 walks (3.18 BB/9), 20 Ks (6.35 K/9), and a .215/.284/.320 line against in five starts and 33 1⁄3 innings.
“As a baseball fan I get excited every day to come to the ballpark,” Phillies’ manager Gabe Kapler told reporters, as quoted by NBC Philadelphia’s Corey Seidman on Saturday.
“But no doubt, Scherzer vs. Arrieta, day game, last game of the series to settle it ... huge moment, and we’re all pretty stoked for it.”
Nats’ skipper Davey Martinez, who was the bench manager in Chicago while Arrieta was with the Cubs, said he knew the Nationals had a tough task ahead of them in the third of three in D.C.
“We’ve got to swing at strikes,” Martinez said when asked how his team would approach the Philly right-hander.
“I truly believe that from the other side. Teams that make him throw the ball over the plate, he can run his pitch count up, so we’ve got to be aggressive, but be aggressive in the strike zone. He’s really good. I can’t sit here and pretend that he’s not, but on our side we’ve got a guy that’s really really good too, so it’s going to be a lot of fun and I know our guys are excited about playing.”
Matt Adams took an aggressive swing on a 3-1 sinker in the second, homering to right field and off the facade of the second deck for his eighth home run of the season and eighth hit in 28 plate appearances against Arrieta in their respective careers.
Scherzer tossed three scoreless on 49 pitches, striking out seven of the first eleven batters he faced, and he added three Ks in a scoreless, 25-pitch fourth for 10 total, and three more in the fifth, for 13 from 20 batters faced on 93 pitches in five scoreless frames.
Arrieta was up to just 64 pitches after he worked around a walk in a scoreless 13-pitch fifth.
Odubel Herrera doubled to right field and Aaron Altherr reached via HBP in the first two at bats of the Phillies’ half of the sixth, but K No. 14 and an inning-ending 5-4-3 got Scherzer out of trouble and left him at 104 pitches overall on the day.
Arrieta was replaced by a pinch hitter in the top of the seventh.
Scherzer came back out for the seventh, and gave up a leadoff single, then picked up his 15th K from 26 batters faced before Martinez went to the bullpen for Sammy Solis, whose only at bat of the game ended with a game-tying RBI single on a soft liner to center, 1-1.
Max Scherzer’s Line: 6.1 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 15 Ks, 111 P, 71 S, 1/0 GO/FO.
Jake Arrieta’s Line: 6.0 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 2 Ks, 1 HR, 75 P, 48 S, 8/4 GO/FO.
The Phillies added two more runs in the seventh and another in the top of the eighth, 4-1, but the Nationals rallied for two in the bottom of the eighth and two more in the ninth to take the series finale.
While Scherzer piled up strikeouts, Arrieta gave up just two hits, and was more efficient in the pitchers’ duel.
“I don’t care about strikeouts,” Arrieta told reporters, as quoted by Philly.com’s Scott Lauber, after the game. “I’m trying to get the guy out on the first pitch.”
“I had my pitches, but I just kept falling behind in the count, didn’t do a good job of creating count leverage for myself,” Scherzer said when asked about the outing.
“But I was able to keep the team in and make pitches, get the count back to two strikes, and then throw an out pitch, and obviously collected a ton of strikeouts today, but it’s also, I got to tip my cap to them, they grinded me really hard, they know what I throw, they have really good approaches.”
Arrieta said he understood the decision his manager made to go to the bullpen when he did in spite of his relatively low pitch count.
“Max is punching out 29 and we have to try to find a way to score,” he said, as quoted by USA TODAY Sports.
“It’s tough to come out of the game, but you understand why you have to.”
Scherzer and his manager had an animated conversation on the mound before Martinez lifted him in the top of the seventh.
“He was good,” the first-year skipper said. “Like I told him, I said, ‘Hey, you gave us a chance to win, and that’s all I can ask you, and I’m proud of you. We got this.’”
With the injuries to starters like Kershaw and Jacob deGrom, Martinez was asked if he took Max out when he did at least in part to preserve the Nationals’ ace for future outings.
“Absolutely,” Martinez said. “And granted, Max is a workhorse. We had conversations from the fifth inning on, and we talked, and I know Max and at that point, he went out that last inning purely heart. And I told him, I said, ‘Hey, you get the first two hitters, after that...’ and he agreed, so I went out there, and it’s kind of funny, you guys had to be in the Circle [of Trust], but we had a good conversation.”
“Jake threw the ball really well today,” Scherzer said of the matchup with Arrieta, “so it’s one of those things where you just kind of, hey, that’s just kind how the game is shaking out and you’ve just got to keep battling and try to pitch as deep as you can into the ballgame.”
“I tip my hat off to Jake too,” Martinez added, “because he was really, really good as well, he really was. But our guys battled back and we ended up on top, which is nice.”