Max Scherzer got two runs of support before he even took the mound last night in Citizens Bank Park, courtesy of RBI singles by Josh Bell and Yan Gomes, but he gave one back when he left a 1-2 cutter up and in to Bryce Harper that the one-time Washington National hit 431 feet to right for a solo shot in the first at bat of the Phillies’ second.
Scherzer held the Phillies there through three, and submitted himself to the new protocols MLB put in place that have umpires checking pitchers for foreign substances on pitcher’s hands, their gloves, their caps, and belts between innings, but while he was on the mound in the bottom of the fourth, Philadelphia’s manager Joe Girardi called upon the umpires to check for foreign substances again.
Andrew McCutchen reached on an error by Starlin Castro to start the Phillies’ fourth, and an at bat with Alec Bohm ended with a K, but only after Scherzer threw a fastball in that got up and sent the infielder to the ground as he tried to avoid the 95 MPH heater. Bohm fouled off a slider, but K’d swinging on another 95 MPH fastball.
That’s when the Philly skipper decided to call for Scherzer to be checked again.
“Obviously Girardi, for me, it’s kind of confusing,” Scherzer said after the game, a 3-2 win for the Nationals in which he threw five strong and gave up just the one run. “If you watch the Bohm at bat, I almost put a 95 MPH fastball in his head because the ball slipped out of my hand. The whole night I was sick of kind of licking my fingers and tasting rosin all night, so I couldn’t even get sweat from the back of my head because it wasn’t really a warm night, so for me, the only part that was actually sweaty for me was actually my hair, so I had to take off my hat to try to get some moisture on my hand to try to mix with the rosin. And so, for me that’s the confusing part, I’m just trying to get a grip on the ball. You can even watch in that previous at bat, the ball slipped out of my hand and I almost drilled somebody in the face.”
“I’ve seen Max a long time,” Girardi explained when asked about his decision to have the umps check on Scherzer on the mound. “Since 2010. Obviously he’s going to be a Hall of Famer. But I’ve never seen him wipe his head like he was doing tonight, ever. Going like this ... [rubs hand over head, from the forehead all the way back] ... It was suspicious for me. He did it about 4-5 times. It was suspicious. I didn’t mean to offend anyone. I’ve just got to do what’s right for our club.”
Did he have some inside info? Was there a gossip/suspicion that Scherzer is someone who used sticky stuff?
“I didn’t have any heads up,” Girardi said, “but again, like I said, I’ve seen Max pitch a long time and I’ve never seen him do that, that’s why I did it.”
And he didn’t think the umpire’s previous checks were enough?
Max Scherzer willing to have umps check anywhere: pic.twitter.com/uoQ4IzhFQ8— federalbaseball (@federalbaseball) June 23, 2021
“Again, I saw him going to his hair,” Girardi reiterated, “and I’ve never seen him do that, ever, and I’ve been watching him for a long time, I saw him on the other dugout in the American League for a long time, and I’ve never seen him do that.”
“The only part that was really sweaty enough on me to be able to grab any type of moisture was on my hair,” Scherzer said.
“It wasn’t a warm night tonight, so the back of my neck wasn’t really that sweaty, when I tried to get there, and so for me, the only body part that actually had enough sweat on it was my hair. So, that’s fortunate tonight.
“This is going to be dangerous when you’re in a cold game and you have no sweat. What will we do then?”
If this is getting too deep in the pitching/grip/sticky stuff weeds for you, to put it simply, Scherzer was saying rosin (the only thing allowed now) + sweat = a better grip.
“Typically, I like to lick my hands,” Scherzer explained, “that can kind of get some tack, but like I said, I was using a lot of rosin tonight, so I was eating rosin, so I kind of was like, ‘Alright, I don’t want to eat rosin, it tastes gross,’ and so that’s where I was — like the only sweaty part on me is my hair, and so that’s where I was just trying to get that moisture to mix with rosin to try to get any kind of tack. Even that wasn’t working. I had zero feel of the baseball tonight whatsoever.”
It was Scherzer’s, (and the Nationals’), first game under MLB’s new protocols regarding any kind of grip enhancers outside of rosin, so it was a new experience for everyone involved.
“I thought the umpires did a good job with it,” Nats’ skipper Davey Martinez said after the game. “I really did. I mean, it’s part of the game now and they did their due diligence.
“As far as Joe is concerned,” the fourth-year manager added, “... I think he’s got to answer the tough questions about that, I don’t need to answer that.”
“There was no sticky stuff, let’s just say that,” he said at another point in his post game Zoom call.
“The umpires checked. Everything was good. So, like I said, I think Joe has got to answer the tough questions tonight.”
Martinez declined to share what, if any, explanation he got for the decision to interrupt play to check Scherzer again from the umpires.
“I’m not going to comment on that stuff, I’m really not,” he said. “I mean, Joe is going to get asked the tough questions. For me, I’m proud of the boys today. They hung in there. Max threw a lot of pitches, but he was able to give us five good innings, five strong innings.”
Scherzer walked the next batter, after the on-field delay, putting two on, but got the final two outs, stranding both runners, then he returned to the mound in the Phillies’ fifth and retired the side in order before he was done for the night, having thrown 106 pitches, with eight Ks from 21 batters faced.
When he walked off the mound he glared into the Phillies’ dugout the whole time, and then Girardi got heated about what he was hearing from the Nationals, so he came out onto the field, gestured at and challenged the other team, and got himself ejected.
Max Scherzer stares down the Phillies dugout after throwing a strikeout to end the 5th.— Jake Russell (@_JakeRussell) June 23, 2021
Joe Girardi leaves his dugout to challenge Scherzer to… something.
Scherzer shows Girardi his clean hat and glove. pic.twitter.com/0mqJMGssZZ
He didn’t get many questions about his performance on the post game Zoom call though, so Scherzer said his piece and got his point across, delivering a message to the people in charge of the game and responsible for these new protocols.
Asked how it felt to get called out, and essentially accused of cheating, he said simply, “I don’t know. These are [Commissioner Rob] Manfred rules. Go ask him what he wants to do with this. I’ve said enough.
“Go ask Alec Bohm how he feels about 95 at his face. I don’t need to say anything more about this.”
Scherzer shared his thoughts at one point about how he thinks they could improve the new process, but asked if he’d been given any word that things could be changed, he said, “I have no idea. This is all new to me. You know as much as I do, so like I said, please go ask MLB about how they feel about this.”