Max Scherzer faced NL East division rivals in three of his four previous Opening Day starts before last night’s game, (and went up against the Cincinnati Reds in the other), but everything is different this year, and the 35-year-old veteran, (coming off a 2019 campaign in which he went 11-7 in 27 starts, with 2.92 ERA, 2.45 FIP, 33 walks (1.72 BB/9), 243 strikeouts (12.69 K/9), and a .222/.266/.371 line against in 172 1⁄3 IP) faced an American League East team in Game 1 of 60 in the 2020 MLB season.
Going into the game, Scherzer did not seem too concerned about going up against a team he hasn’t faced in five years when he spoke with reporters in advance of the season opener yesterday.
“This happens all the time,” Scherzer said when asked about facing the Bronx Bombers in his 2020 debut.
Max Scherzer, Painted Changeup.— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) July 24, 2020
Just kidding. Angel's terrible. pic.twitter.com/CN8iWZJCaV
“Even though you might be playing, let’s call it a divisional opponent, there might be a new hitter within that lineup that you’ve never faced before, and so how you go about that, trying to pitch to your strengths, and try to understand what they can do at the plate. So that cat and mouse game happens no matter who you play. Because of the constant turnover that’s going on in the game you’re always facing new guys anyway, so the fact that I haven’t faced the Yankees that much over the past five years, six years, whatever it’s been, that’s just what it is. They haven’t faced me. So we’re just playing a chess game right now.”
Scherzer gave up a one-out single and a two-out, two-run home run in the opening frame of the season-opening game, with Aaron Judge singling and Giancarlo Stanton going yard, out to left-center on a 96 MPH 1-1 cutter up in the zone to put the Nationals up 2-0 early.
Stanton improved to 5 for 19 with three home runs head-to-head with Scherzer over the course of their respective careers.
Scherzer struck out four straight batters after the Stanton blast, but a leadoff walk and RBI double in the third (to Tyler Wade; by Aaron Judge, respectively) gave the Yankees their 2-run lead back, 3-1.
Stanton added a bases-loaded RBI single to right in the fifth to put the Yankees up by three, 4-1, which left him 6 for 21 against Scherzer.
Scherzer added two Ks in the inning, for 10 total from 23 batters faced, and came back out for the sixth, picking up his 11th strikeout (from 26 batters) before rain delayed the game.
Max Scherzer, Wicked 92mph Hard Slider/Cutter (10th K). ✂️ pic.twitter.com/8GjcAmMDrb— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) July 24, 2020
It never resumed, and the Yankees took the season opener by a final score of 4-1 in the five-inning game.
“I thought he threw the ball well,” Nats’ skipper Davey Martinez told reporters after the loss.
“I think he made one or two mistakes that cost him. He wanted to go in on Stanton, and left it over the plate. But I thought he threw the ball really well. He was coming out, throwing in the mid-90s mph, pretty good.”
“Honestly, I thought my offspeed stuff was good and it was sharp I thought I had put-away pitches,” Scherzer said.
“Unfortunately my fastball location was kind of in crossfire, every time I was trying to throw arm-side I was throwing glove-side, glove-side, arm-side.
“So, I didn’t pitch quite as efficiently, and it created some mistakes, where I wasn’t locating as well as I could have, but sometimes that’s going to happen, and you just try to make a fix and you move on to next start.”
Scherzer settled in, and did end up with 11 strikeouts, becoming, “... the first pitcher in the modern era to record 10+ strikeouts on Opening Day in three straight seasons.”
“Max, he has a plan going into every game,” Martinez said. “He studies hitters. I know he waited a long time to get to this opener, as we all did.
“A little fired up, a little antsy, but he settled down and started pitching really well.”
“Just made better pitches,” Scherzer said of what changed when he settled in. “Look, I got hit a little bit there early, but was able to execute some other pitches as well, so as much as I can beat myself up over tonight, there were also some good things that came out of today, that I’m happy with, so sometimes you’ve just got to take your lickings and understand that you can be better in the long run.”
It was a long, emotional night for everyone involved, but Scherzer, whose start was the first in his 13th MLB season, said this one was unique.
“This one is a little different,” Scherzer said of his performance last night and his success in previous Opening Day outings. This one was about more than one game.
“So much work has had to be put into this to make this one happen. So I think this one signifies more of what’s gone on in the game, what’s gone on in the country to be able to put this season on. All the hard work from everyone involved to be able to get testing, protocols, to having players buy in and know that we’re actually trying to do this literally as safe as possible, to going out there and just following the protocols. So everybody is doing the best that they can, and we’re going to have a season. It’s better than no season.
“I’d rather be playing baseball than not playing baseball at all, so, to me, I can go out there and compete and have a smile on my face.”