clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Clown show or strip show? Washington Nationals’ Max Scherzer gets last word after mid-game undressing...

New, 5 comments

Nats’ ace was ready to show Philly’s Joe Girardi, umps more than they asked for...

MLB: Washington Nationals at Philadelphia Phillies
Washington Nationals pitcher Max Scherzer submits to a patdown after nearly stripping down on the field in response to a search for foreign substances. None were found, and Scherwer earned his sixth win of the season in the Nats’ 3-2 victory.
Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Whether it was a strip show or a clown show, Tuesday night’s fourth inning in Philadelphia made Washington Nationals’ ace Max Scherzer the poster child for baseball’s current self destruction.

With Phillies’ manager Joe Girardi taunting the Nats and egging on the umpires, Scherzer was literally undressed in front of the mound in a fruitless search for foreign substances in the middle of a 3-2 Washington Nationals’ victory.

“I’d have to be an absolute fool to actually use something tonight, when everybody’s antenna is so high to look for anything,” Scherzer fumed to reporters in a postgame Zoom call.

“I have nothing on me. Check whatever you want, I’ll take off all my clothes if you want to see me, I got nothing on me.”

It all made for high theater that in reality only served to extend and actually obscure a tightly played, tense ballgame.

MLB: Washington Nationals at Philadelphia Phillies Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

That’s the real tragedy here. Another mid-summer Nats’ run from mediocrity to the postseason might be obscured by commissioner Rob Manfred’s ongoing clown show.

The drama came when Scherzer, a 36-year-old, 14th-year veteran of both major leagues, three-time Cy Young Award winner, world champion, seven-time All-Star, and almost-certain Hall of Famer — was approached mid-inning — in front of the mound.

He’d just fired a fastball that nearly missed Phillies’ third baseman Alec Bohm’s head.

Scherzer told reporters he was mixing sweat from his hair with rosin to grip the ball, and it wasn’t working so well.

“I almost put a 95 MPH fastball in his head because the ball slipped out of my hand,” said Scherzer.

So one the top pitchers in the game was ready to strip down with nearly 20,000 typically cranky Philadelphia boo-birds appropriating the Bronx cheer, and millions more streaming or watching on TV.

“I’m just trying to get a grip on the ball,” said Scherzer. “You can even watch in that previous at bat, the ball slipped out of my hand and I almost drilled somebody in the face.”

An inning later, an incensed Scherzer stalked off the field after his final pitch, his glare finding Girardi in the Phillies’ dugout.

Girardi charged out like it was fourth-grade recess, clearly challenging more than just the ace’s pitch selection.

Did Manfred or Girardi personally select Scherzer for public humiliation? If so, could anyone blame Scherzer for not firing more than a few stone cold daggers into the Philly dugout?

The moment baseball’s leadership handed down its decision to crack down on foreign substances, it willed into existence the ridiculous situation in Philadelphia.

From the time this issue surfaced earlier this year, Scherzer has been on the record, as a player and as a players’ union representative, that pitchers should be allowed to get a grip on baseballs that change in feel and substance almost yearly.

‘We watched Austin Voth get drilled in the face,” Scherzer told reporters on June 11, five days after Philadelphia’s Vince Velasquez hit the Nats’ relief pitcher and broke his nose.

MLB: Washington Nationals at Philadelphia Phillies Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

“So, there’s a downside to taking a lot of sticky stuff away from everybody, because there’s a safety issue here with the hitters,” Scherzer added.

Over the years, pitchers have been ejected for loading the ball with pine tar or scuffing.

But pitchers have also been using combinations of sunscreen and rosin, pine tar, and even stickier substances to grip the ball for years.

This has become a big problem in the past two months? Because pitchers dominated the game for a few weeks like no time since 1968?

This sure would be a bad time for baseball to invent a crisis and slap a popular player’s face on it to avert our eyes from its changing rules and standards.

While Scherzer avoided admitting breaking the rules in so many words, he and manager Davey Martinez have both said that batters are at risk from pitchers who can’t get a grip on the ball.

As Voth lay in a hospital, awaiting surgery to set his nose, Martinez made an explicit plea.

“I’m afraid that if we don’t come up with something, something unified for everybody, that you’ll see a lot more of that. And that’s a scary feeling because these guys thrown 95-96-97, some guys throw 100,” he said on June 6th.

Scherzer was one of several pitchers fired Anaheim clubhouse attendant Brian Harkins named as customers for his custom-made tacky substance in his wrongful termination lawsuit against the Angels and MLB.

So with all this swirling around him the past month, Scherzer is coming off a minor groin injury that kept him on the IL from the time enforcement was announced through the time it began on Monday.

If someone wanted to write a script and set a stage, it couldn’t have been more dramatic than having Scherzer start Tuesday, on the road, against a division rival with a manager known for trying to get inside opponents’ heads.

So it might have started when Scherzer fired a four-seam fastball to Alec Bohm on the fourth pitch of his at-bat, with no one out in the fourth and Andrew McCutchen on first base and the Nats ahead 3-1.

“That pitch specifically is the pitch I fear the most,” said Scherzer. “I never want to throw a ball near somebody’s head.”

The pitch sailed up and in to the right-handed Phillies’ third baseman, and he bailed out.

“The previous at bat, I was able to get a fastball by him on an inside fastball, and I was literally trying to throw the same exact pitch, and it slips out of my hand, and it ends up near his face. Thank God it did not hit him in the face. I don’t ever want to put a fastball in somebody’s face, but we almost had that tonight.”

The familiar Philadelphia crowd reaction swelled through Citizens Bank Park as Bohm got up and went back to the box.

After Bohm fouled off the next pitch, Scherzer struck him out flailing at classic “high cheese.”

That was enough for Girardi to accuse Scherzer of hiding something.

MLB’s guidelines call for umpires to initiate foreign substance searches when a pitcher comes off the field after an inning or when a relief pitcher enters or leaves the game.

But, behind 3-1 with Scherzer cutting through the order save for a Bryce Harper home run, Girardi clearly was in a mood to force the issue.

It wasn’t just once, but three times, with Girardi on him all the way, that crew chief Alfonso Marquez asked Scherzer to let the crew inspect him.

Scherzer showed Marquez his hands. He showed his glove. He removed his hat.

“The only part that was really sweaty enough on me to be able to grab any type of moisture was on my hair,” Scherzer explained.

Washington Nationals v Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

By the third time, Scherzer’d had enough.

He threw down his hat and glove and unbuckled his belt, ready to show the umps, Girardi, the Philadelphia crowd, and the TV audience he wasn’t hiding anything.

With his manager Davey Martinez barking at the umps and Girardi from behind, Scherzer finally raised his hands and submitted to a pat down.

“I wasn’t heated, I was just trying to show I have absolutely zero on me,” Scherzer explained.

He also revealed exactly what he wasn’t hiding:

“Typically, I like to lick my hands, that can kind of get some tack, but like I said, I was using a lot of rosin tonight, so I was eating rosin,” he said. “I don’t want to eat rosin. It tastes gross.”

The only place he could find any moisture was under his hat.

“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.”

Scherzer was allowed to finish the inning, and after walking Brad Miller, he did exactly that in short order, without allowing another runner.

“That’s why he’s a Hall of Famer,” Trea Turner said.

Managers can be disciplined for asking the umpires to check a pitcher in bad faith, to distract a pitcher at a key point in the game.

Scherzer stopped short of suggesting that for Girardi, but he clearly felt targeted.

Scherzer also suggested that his over-the-top performance might have served a purpose.

“Hopefully the players across the league understand what we’re doing right now just is not the answer,” he said.

“I feel like there’s a minority group of players here that have made it public about how they feel about pitchers and what they’re going about. And I completely understand there is a problem with Spider Tack in the game. And we got to get rid of that, but I also think there is a better way to handle this.”

Mid-inning checks, he insisted, won’t fly.

“I don’t know. These are Manfred rules,” Scherzer snapped when asked about the prospect of more. “Go ask him what he wants to do with this. I’ve said enough.”