Utility infielder Jordy Mercer had played in only 10 games for the Washington Nationals this season, often as a defensive replacement. But he took full advantage of a start in Sunday’s 3-1 win over the Miami Marlins, making a key play to preserve Max Scherzer’s chance for a complete game.
Scherzer dominated the Marlins from the outset, striking out nine batters and walking none, but his start could have been undone by some trouble in the eighth. Instead, Mercer made a play that kept the Marlins off the scoreboard long enough to allow Scherzer to go for his 12th career complete game and first since Sept. 8, 2018 against the Cubs (outside of a rain-shortened 5 1⁄3-inning complete game last July).
The Nats’ scoring came on Ryan Zimmerman’s three-run homer in the third inning, his fourth of the season.
Scherzer came into the eighth on a roll, leading 3-0 and having retired six of the last seven batters he faced. But with one out, he got into some trouble when Monte Harrison slapped a 3-2 slider into left to give the Marlins a base runner with one out.
Scherzer was not close to his pitch count and had reached a three-ball count only six times. But a run, or even a runner in scoring position at this point, might end his day. Daniel Hudson began warming in the pen.
On the second pitch to pinch hitter Adam Duvall, Harrison took off for second — down by three with one out. That was certainly cause to question whether Marlins’ manager Don Mattingly had ordered the steal, or whether Harrison had taken off on his own, but the play was on, and Harrison was headed for scoring position.
Duvall swung through a slider for strike one, and Harrison reached the base just ahead of Yan Gomes’ throw. But umpire Mike Wenger ruled that Harrison slid past and came off the bag and called him out.
The replay review showed how the 34-year-old Mercer, in his tenth major league season, stuck with the play. He put the tag on Harrison and kept it on while the runner slid just past the base.
Then, in the instant Harrison lost contact, he slid his glove into the inch between the base and Harrison body, blocking his return to the bag.
Four pitches later, Duvall had struck out, Hudson had sat down, the inning was over, and Scherzer would get the chance the chance to complete the game. The big second out at second base, was key in taking the stress out of the inning and putting all the focus on striking out Duvall.
That play at second came about as a result of the video replay rule instituted in 2014, and Mercer has since honed the craft of catching runners who can’t stop themselves in time. Making plays like that is how Mercer made the team after a non-roster invitation to Spring Training, and making plays like that is how he’ll stay on the roster and help the Nats this season.