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Washington Nationals welcome Max Scherzer back ... then try to beat him

It was an entertaining night in Washington, D.C., with Max Scherzer back on the mound in Nationals Park.

New York Mets v Washington Nationals Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Max Scherzer told reporters he wasn’t sure how he would be welcomed in his first game in D.C. since signing a 3-year/$130M free agent deal with the New York Mets this winter, after seven seasons in D.C. (and a World Series title in 2019).

“That’s for the fans,” Scherzer said. “Whatever they want.”

Scherzer’s time in the nation’s capital came to an end when he was dealt to the Los Angeles Dodgers at the trade deadline last July, and he became a free agent this past winter and got a three-year deal from Mets’ owner Steven Cohen.

Returning to the nation’s capital for his first start in blue and orange, the 37-year-old, 14-year veteran said he thought the atmosphere would be exciting.

“It’s just going to be a crazy, wild atmosphere,” he said as he spoke in the visitor’s clubhouse before the series opener on Thursday night.

“To be able to be a part of this — this was going to happen at some point — it was weird when I had that Dodgers uniform on too, so you get used to it, you get used to playing for another team, and you go out there and just compete and have fun. A lot of good memories here, there always will be good memories here, but nothing lasts forever, and as my baseball journey goes on, I’m here in New York, and excited about what the future holds.”

Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo, who drafted Scherzer in the 1st Round in 2006 when he was the scouting director in Arizona, then signed him to a 7-year/$210M deal in 2015-16, before trading him to LA in July of 2021, said the tribute video the club showed before the season opener was emotional.

“It meant a lot,” Rizzo said.

“He was — he was a huge part of the history of the Nationals, and my history with him goes back to the Diamondbacks, so we’ve got a long colorful past together.”

Scherzer’s former teammate, Juan Soto, said he was looking forward to going against the one-time ace in Washington.

“It’s going to be fun,” Soto said.

“Because even when he was here, he was talking to me, he was going back and forth about what he’s going to throw me and what he’s going to do. I know he didn’t give me any of his special things, but I think it’s going to be fun, and he’s going to try to strike me out and I will try my best to don’t strike out because I know he wants that really bad.”

“We’re going to try to beat him. We’re going to do everything we can to try to beat him,” the Nationals’ manager, Davey Martinez, said after the club’s 5-1 loss in the season opener.

Martinez said he too got emotional when the Nationals played a tribute video for Scherzer.

“It was sad,” Martinez acknowledge, of looking back at the four seasons he spent managing the future Hall of Fame starter.

“But then again you thought about all the memories that we had together,” he added. “I tell you what really stood out, the game he screamed at me in Cincinnati when I went out there to talk to him — and we all started laughing, I told the story in the dugout, but those are moments that we’ll never forget, and then the hugs and the punches in the chest and all that stuff, I’ll never forget that. Like I said, he’s something special.”

Martinez and Scherzer’s brief dialogue on the mound in Great American Ball Park way back in 2019 is the stuff of legend at this point, and part of the journey which culminated in their World Series win together later that season.

Martinez joked in a pregame Zoom call last summer, after Scherzer was dealt to LA, about their heated exchange in Cincinnati:

“I don’t know if Max would want me to share these stories. I really don’t. I’m going to have to keep some of these stories to myself.

As you all know, the whole hoopla in Cincinnati where he started screaming at me and I really didn’t want to take him out of the game, and we had some choice words for one another.

“He ended up striking out [Joey] Votto in three pitches, and comes back in and really smoked me in the chest with a punch, and we both started laughing about it for a few days. But he’s a special breed man, he really is.”

The manager said going into the series he was more concerned about Mets’ skipper Buck Showalter’s safety.

“It’s definitely going to be different,” facing Scherzer he joked. “What I’d say is, ‘Good luck, Buck,’ when he goes to take him out of the game.”

Scherzer ended up going six innings in his debut with the Mets, giving up three hits a walk, and three earned runs while striking out six of the 22 batters he faced.

How did the showdown(s) between Scherzer and Soto play out?

Soto got up 2-1 on Scherzer in their first matchup, spitting on two fastballs down and in, but popped out to the line in left on a 95 MPH fastball.

Soto lined out to right field on a 95 MPH 0-1 fastball for the third out of the third, 0 for 2.

Scherzer battled back from being down 2-0 to even things up, 2-2, before he spit on a pair of pitches and took a walk the third time up against the Mets’ starter.