WASHINGTON, D.C.: Who would crack first? 2018 NL Cy Young contenders Max Scherzer, of the Washington Nationals, and Aaron Nola, of the visiting Philadelphia Phillies, were as advertised this afternoon in the series finale in Nationals Park.
It looked like it was going to come down to which one of them made the first mistake as it went along, with both starters completing six scoreless in an old-fashioned pitchers’ duel.
It was Scherzer who blinked first, walking Maikel Franco with one out in Philly seventh and then leaving a cutter up outside for Odubel Herrera, who lined it out right field for a home run that landed in the second deck, 2-0 Phillies.
Scherzer vs the Phillies: Max Scherzer was unbeaten in eight starts heading into today’s outing, going back to July 7th, with a 2.00 ERA and a .200/.246/.349 line against in 54 IP over that stretch.
This afternoon’s matchup was his first with the Philadelphia Phillies since back on May 6th, when he held the Nationals’ NL East rivals to a run on five hits in 6 1⁄3 IP, striking out a 2018-best 15 of 26 batters in an 111-pitch appearance in what ended up a 5-4 win.
Scherzer struck out six of the first 14 batters he faced in the series finale with the Phillies, working around two walks to complete four scoreless (and hitless) on 62 pitches.
A leadoff walk and one-out single (on a questionably playable ball that got by Trea Turner at short) gave the Phillies two runners on in the top of the fifth (with the ruling of a hit on Jorge Alfaro’s grounder ending Scherzer’s no-hit bid) and the opposing pitcher, Aaron Nola, got a bunt down to move both runners into scoring position, but Scherzer got a pop to right field from Cesar Hernandez to end his fifth scoreless frame.
He picked up two Ks in an 11-pitch, 1-2-3 sixth that pushed him up to 90 pitches.
Scherzer issued a season-high fourth free pass to the second batter in the seventh, putting Maikel Franco on in front of Odubel Herrera, then compounded the error when he left a 1-0 cutter up and out over the plate outside that Herrera hit out to right, into the second deck in Nationals Park for a two-run blast that made it 2-0 Philly.
Max Scherzer’s Line: 7.0 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 4 BB, 10 Ks, 1 HR, 109 P, 65 S, 4/3 GO/FO.
This is the 78th 10+ K game of Max Scherzer's career. pic.twitter.com/PAxQqpAUay— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) August 23, 2018
Nola vs the Nats: Aaron Nola won back-to-back starts against the Nationals in consecutive outings in June, holding Washington’s hitters to two runs on four hits in the nation’s capital before making a 7 2⁄3-inning at home in Citizens Bank Park in which he limited the Nats to a total of five hits and one earned run.
In eight starts since they last saw him, Nola was (4-1) with a 1.73 ERA, 13 walks, 53 Ks, and a .186/.249/.255 line against in 52 innings.
He tossed three scoreless to start this afternoon, working around a leadoff double by Nats’ catcher Spencer Kieboom in the third, stranding him at third base after he got there with one out.
Nola was up to just 53 pitches after five scoreless, working around three hits and picking up six Ks from 18 batters faced, and he completed a scoreless 14-pitch sixth inning that left at 67 pitches overall, and a scoreless, 14-pitch seventh, 81 pitches overall.
Adam Eaton doubled and Trea Turner walked with two out in the bottom of the eighth, and Bryce Harper (0 for 3, K) stepped in as the potential go-ahead run, got up 2-1, then whiffed on back-to-back fastballs.
LET'S GEAUX TO THE 9TH pic.twitter.com/jZ4l9w8rHK— Philadelphia Phillies (@Phillies) August 23, 2018
Aaron Nola’s Line: 8.0 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 9 Ks, 102 P, 70 S, 8/2 GO/FO.
Scherzer vs Nola: In the Phillies’ pregame notes for this afternoon’s series finale in D.C., they mentioned the fact that their starter today, 25-year-old righty Aaron Nola, had, in 25 starts this season before today, posted a 2.24 ERA (2.236 actually, they noted), which was almost identical, though slightly lower, to the 2.24 ERA (2.238, actually) that the late Roy Halladay posted on the way to capturing the NL Cy Young back in 2010.
Scherzer, the back-to-back, defending NL Cy Young winner, (who, by the way, was 8-0 with a 2.28 ERA in 13 career starts against Philadelphia since joining Washington in 2015 going into today’s start), began the day leading all NL pitchers in total strikeouts (234), K/9 (12.06), WHIP (0.89), opponents’ AVG (.182), opponents’ OBP (.241), H/9 (5.87), total wins (16), and K/BB ratio (5.71), with a stingy 2.11 ERA on the season, which was the National League’s second-lowest, behind only the New York Mets’ Jacob deGrom (a ridiculous 1.71 ERA before today).
“Defensively do all the little things right,” Davey Martinez told reporters when asked about the matchup before today’s game. “[Nola is] going to attack the strike zone, he’s going to be around the strike zone, so be ready to swing the bat. But going out there and watching these two guys... they’re two of the best right now and it will be fun to watch.”
BULLPEN ACTION: Wander Suero tossed a scoreless top of the eighth for the Nationals to keep it a 2-0 game.
Greg Holland struck out two in a 13-pitch eighth to keep it a two-run game.
Pat Neshek came on for the save opportunity in the bottom of the ninth inning after another impressive outing from Aaron Nola, and retired the side in order to end it.
Final Score: 2-0 Phillies
Nationals now 64-64