NEW YORK - When he saw Dusty Baker walking to the mound with two outs in the seventh inning last night, Max Scherzer assumed what all starting pitchers assume when their manager walks to the mound.
“I thought he was going to take me out,” the right-hander said.
Baker, however, hadn’t yet made up his mind.
“When I went to the mound, I didn’t know what exactly what I was going to do,” the manager said. “Usually, I know what to do.”
Scherzer had just walked Alejandro De Aza, prolonging the inning and raising his pitch count to 112. The Nationals bullpen was ready to go if needed. The Nationals led the Mets 6-1.
Scherzer’s body language clearly conveyed he didn’t want to leave the game at that point. Baker noticed that, but he wanted to hear it from his ace as well.
“I looked at Max and said: ‘OK, man, you got enough?’” the manager said. “Because he said he was still strong, wanted to go out that inning. Usually Max doesn’t lie. He’ll tell you when he’s had enough, and he’ll tell you if he feels strong on that particular day. So I went to the mound and I asked him: ‘Do you have enough to get this hitter?’ “
“He asked me how I was feeling, and I said I still feel strong.” Scherzer said. “I still got one more hitter in me.”
Baker, though, still needed a bit more convincing. He needed to look his pitcher in the eye before he could know for sure.
Scherzer, of course, has the rare condition known as heterochromia, making his left eye brown and his right eye blue. So Baker asked him: “Which eye should I look at?”
Scherzer’s reply: “Look in the (expletive) brown eye!”
As Baker would explain later: “That was a good enough answer for me.”
Why did Scherzer choose his brown eye instead of his blue eye?
“That’s the pitching one,” he said with a laugh.
Whatever the case, Baker let his starter remain in the game for one more batter, and Scherzer responded by getting Wilmer Flores to fly out to left, ending the inning with the Nationals still comfortably ahead and ending his night with a pitch count of 117.
“I was just strong,” he said. “Even after the sixth, it was a long inning. That’s typically a situation, when you have a long inning, and you score two more, that’s actually a time to come out of the ballgame, because it’s tough to loosen back up. But I told (pitching coach Mike Maddux): ‘I’m strong. I already played catch in the cage. I feel good.’ I basically told him I’m still strong, I’m good to go. I understand this is a situation I might come out of the ballgame, but I’m good to go. That’s what I told him.”
His manager certainly appreciated the effort, not to mention the honesty.
“I really saw it in the sixth and seventh,” Baker said. “He reached back, because Max can do that. He knows how to do that from the strikeout games and his no-hitter. He knows how to reach back and get some more. That’s what he did. He saved my bullpen for (Sunday).”