Opposing hitters were 0 for 17 with runners in scoring position against Max Scherzer in the 2019 postseason before the start of Game 1 of the World Series tonight, and 0 for 19 after two Ks with runners in scoring position in the bottom of the first inning in Minute Maid Park.
A two-out, two-run double by Yuli Gurriel in the home half of the first was the first hit off Scherzer with runners in scoring position this October, however, and it gave the Houston Astros a 2-0 lead early in the series opener of the 115th Fall Classic.
Scherzer talked in his pre-start press conference about all the information that’s available in baseball these days allowing him to attack hitters where they’re vulnerable when he needs a strikeout in those situations. He started the night with nine Ks in those 17 at bats, and added two more before finally giving up a hit with runners in scoring position.
As much as he knows about hitters, he said, the playing field with analytics is a level one.
“The hitters know exactly what your strengths and weaknesses are,” Scherzer explained, “... and the chess game continues. It’s not just a one-sided equation. The hitters also have the same type of information as well and they’re obviously using it to their advantage when they see fit. So it’s still baseball.”
Max Scherzer, Grunt (95mph Fastball). pic.twitter.com/equeuVLX9h— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) October 23, 2019
Those two early runs were all Scherzer gave up through four last night, though the Astros did manage to run his pitch count up to 96 at that point.
Ryan Zimmerman and Juan Soto hit homers off Gerrit Cole in the second and fourth innings, respectively, and Adam Eaton put the Nationals ahead with an RBI single in the fifth, before Soto’s two-run double drove in two more to make it a three-run lead.
It was a 5-2 game in the Nationals’ favor when Scherzer came back out in the fifth, and set the Astros down in order for the first time in the outing, in a 16-pitch frame which left him at 112 total, with 16 swinging strikes, (eight with his fastball, six with his curve, and two with his cutter), and he got 16 called strikes as well, though Houston’s hitters managed to foul off 24 of his pitches (16 fastballs), to run his pitch count up and get him off the mound early.
Max Scherzer’s Line: 5.0 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 3 BB, 7 Ks, 112 P, 65 S, 2/4 GO/FO.
That was it for Scherzer in his second career start in the World Series, and a mix of Patrick Corbin, Tanner Rainey, Daniel Hudson, and Sean Doolittle held on for a 5-4 win, the first in franchise history (2005-present) in the so-called Fall Classic, and the first by a D.C.-based baseball team since 1933.
“It’s crazy,” Scherzer said of his experience in Game 1 after the win.
“Everything is on the line. That lineup is great. They absolutely grinded me, never letting me get in rhythm. I was having to make pitches out of the stretch from the first inning on, and for me, I just stayed with [catcher Kurt Suzuki]. Zuk called some big time pitches for me tonight, and blocked some big-time pitches for me too, especially with runners on third base, but this is just a team win. There’s not one guy that won this game. It was a collection of everybody, and up and down the lineup, in the bullpen, what can you say, the reason we won tonight was because of everybody in this clubhouse.”
Max Scherzer, Frisbee 87mph Slider (with tail). pic.twitter.com/90aQLAkORp— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) October 23, 2019
And getting the team their first World Series win in franchise history?
“Sweet,” Scherzer said. “I hope there’s more.”
“He gave us everything he had today,” Nats’ skipper Davey Martinez said of Scherzer’s effort after the game.
“They don’t chase much. His pitch count got up there. First inning he had a lot of pitches but he battled. And I thought that he was good.”
“I thought our at-bats early were very, very disciplined,” Astros’ manager A.J. Hinch said in his own post-game press conference.
“We made him work extremely hard. You look up and he’s in the 60-pitch count after three innings. We pushed him into the 110, 111 range after five. He did win some big at bats, and there’s no sort of moral victory in that. We left ourselves a lot of outs and made them have to navigate the game. Put a ton of pressure on both Max and their bullpen.
Max Scherzer, Nasty 84mph Slider. pic.twitter.com/4qgwB7LfvW— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) October 23, 2019
“But at the end of the day, you have to win the game. We tried. We had good effort. We had good at bats. But they came out ahead.”
“I knew going into this this was going to be an absolute battle,” Scherzer added.
“I mean their lineup is great, they present so many different challenges, and like I said, they grinded me apart, pitch count was out of control, and that’s a credit to what they were able to do, and constantly put pressure on me, and the fact that I just was not going to give in and I had to continue to bounce sliders and changeups in the dirt, because I just did not want to give up another run.”
How did he remain focused and keep things under control after giving up the early runs?
“Don’t get caught up in it, just stay in the moment, continue to execute,” he explained.
“Just believe in your guys that they’re going to go out there and find ways to get back in the game and we’ve done this the whole postseason, where we might get down a little early, but we find a way to grind away and score runs late, so I have the utmost belief in everybody in this clubhouse, when everybody gets their number called that they’re going to step up and do the job, and tonight that happened.”
While his own outing didn’t go how he hoped, Scherzer did end up getting the win, also the first in the history of the current iteration of the franchise. Was he able to take some positives out of the outing?
“The kind of way I see it is I didn’t lose the ballgame,” Scherzer said. “I didn’t let those extra — there was a lot of chances where they had runners on second and third base, runners in scoring position, but just trusted Zuk, just trusted Zuk to continue to execute pitches. If I had to throw it the dirt, I had to, just to keep from making a mistake in the middle of the zone, and a lot of credit goes to him.”
Opposing hitters are now 1 for 23 against Scherzer in the 2019 postseason, with 13 Ks in those at bats, and the Nationals are up 1-0 in the World Series.