Max Scherzer started the night 10 Ks away from becoming the 17th pitcher since 1900 and the fifth pitcher since 2000 to record a 300+ strikeout season.
Scherzer was up to nine Ks total on the night and 299 on the season after striking out Miami Marlins’ outfielder Lewis Brinson in the first at bat of the seventh, and he went to a full count against Austin Dean in the next at bat, battling for 10 pitches before he picked up his 300th strikeout of the 2018 campaign, joining Washington Senators’ great Walter Johnson as the only two pitchers in D.C. baseball history to reach that milestone.
With his 10th K of the game on Tuesday night, Scherzer reached double-digits in strikeouts for the 18th time this season and the 82nd time in his career, and the 34-year-old, 11-year veteran joined an exclusive list that includes Chris Sale, Clayton Kershaw, Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling, Pedro Martinez, Nolan Ryan, Mike Scott, J.R. Richard, Steve Carlton, Mickey Lolich, Vida Blue, Sam McDowell, Sandy Koufax, Bob Feller, Johnson, and Rube Waddell as the only pitchers in the last 118 years to top 300 Ks in a season.
No ... thank *you*, Max. pic.twitter.com/gtI3c2UEyZ— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) September 26, 2018
First-year Nationals’ skipper Davey Martinez was asked after the game, a 9-4 win over the Fish, if there was any way he was going to lift his starter before Scherzer reached his goal, and the manager laughed.
“I value my life,” Martinez joked. “No. He was going to get 10 today. Somehow. But hey, what an unbelievable accomplishment for him and I’m just happy I got to experience it, really. I can’t say enough about Max, he’s a winner and a true champion.”
Scherzer said he definitely had the milestone on his mind since it was unavoidable in the lead-up to what was potentially his final outing of the season and possibly his last shot at reaching 300 Ks, though he still could start in Game 162 of 162 this weekend.
“It was on my mind,” Scherzer acknowledged.
“With enough guys talking about it, everybody understanding what the milestone is, and I definitely wanted to do it here at home. The fans, unbelievable support, I mean when they’re standing on their feet going crazy it gives you an extra adrenaline boost, and you just want to go out there and accomplish that, and it was an amazing feeling to have the fans behind you and the respect that they gave.”
The announced crowd of 26,463 was all-in on Scherzer reaching his goal, and as he piled up Ks, the excitement-level rose until they were hanging on every pitch.
It only built as Dean got up 3-1, missed a nasty slider off the plate outside, then fouled off four straight 3-2 fastballs that ranged from 95-97 mph before finally swinging over another slider for the third strike and Scherzer’s 300th K.
“I threw that 3-1 slider, and I knew, it was way out of the zone,” Scherzer said when asked to break down the at bat that got him his 300th strikeout.
“I could see that Dean was frustrated that he swung at that pitch, and so I knew he was kind of cognizant of the slider, and so I really tried to blow a fastball by him and he did a great job of battling me and not giving in and even when I stuck with the heater, heater, heater, heater, he fouled all those pitches off and that’s when the time [came] when [Matt Wieters] put down the slider, I knew what he was seeing and thinking and was just able to execute it and that was pretty cool.”
Did the fact that Scherzer needed 10 Ks in his penultimate start of the season, if he does in fact start the season finale, and managed to get them, surprise Martinez?
“When you started the game you really felt like he was definitely going to make a run at it whether it happens,” he said, “... but as you know Max, he was all-in, so as we got close, as we got to that eighth strikeout, you almost felt like it was going to happen. I was watching his pitch count, watching what was going on, but he was — as you saw he was pumping 97 there, so I said yeah, he’s getting after it, he’s going to get after it, but after that though he had 99 pitches and I thought he left it all out there that last at bat.”
Tonight was the 82nd 10+ strikeout game of Max Scherzer's career.— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) September 26, 2018
It was his 18th of 2018. pic.twitter.com/LGEXs9i44p
Max Scherzer’s Line: 7.0 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 10 Ks, 100 P, 70 S, 2/4 GO/FO.
Scherzer was actually up to 98 pitches after his 10th strikeout got him the second out of the Marlins’ half of the seventh, and he gave up a single on the first pitch of the next at bat before he recorded out No. 3 on his 100th overall pitch.
Was 300 Ks a goal for the right-hander growing up or coming up, something he thought about one day accomplishing?
“I wouldn’t say it was a goal,” Scherzer said, “it was just something that as I solidified myself in the big leagues and showed that I was able to get to those marks, it was something I dreamed of, of reaching this mark, because I know how hard it is to consistently go out there and strike guys out.”
And where does it rank on his list of accomplishments in the majors, which includes three Cy Young awards, a 20-K start, and two no-hitters?
“Honestly, it takes to time to fully appreciate any milestone or accomplishment, so I’ll best be able to answer that question here maybe next year. Understanding that it is a short list, but it doesn’t necessarily define you as a pitcher, there’s more to pitching than just striking guys out, but also there’s a big reason why you can have success, that’s why it’s a cool milestone, but there’s more reasons to having success on the mound than just striking guys out.”
But he is really, really good at striking guys out. He really is.