As if this wasn’t going to be a dramatic night on its own merits, Max Scherzer added even more drama to his Mets debut and return to Nationals Park over the last week when he revealed he was dealing with a tweaked hamstring that left his status for this game uncertain.
In the end, Scherzer will start tonight as planned all along. He threw off a mound earlier in the week in Florida, then simulated some fielding drills Thursday and proclaimed himself good to go.
Not that anyone inside the other clubhouse ever doubted it for a second.
“No. Knowing Max, he doesn’t miss starts. That’s his thing,” first baseman Josh Bell said with a laugh. “He might have aches and pains, but he finds a way to be out there. We were expecting him to go all along.”
Drama in advance of big starts is nothing new for Scherzer. Who can forget the 72 hours of panic between his scratched start for Game 5 of the 2019 World Series, then eventual start for Game 7 of that series in Houston?
Scherzer knows his body as well as any pitcher on the planet, and he tends to share every detail of how he feels with reporters, a level of openness rare among big leaguers that’s both refreshing while also inducing plenty of heartburn for those who worry he might not be able to perform.
“I knew it was a hiccup,” the right-hander told reporters inside the Mets clubhouse Thursday afternoon. “I knew it wasn’t a major, like, injury. I’ve done this a couple times, and had an idea what it was.”
At this stage of his career, there are no surprises with Scherzer. He’s been there, done that. Now he just hopes to keep doing it another three years before his record $130 million contract with New York expires.
And it’s all going to start against the Nationals, on South Capitol Street, a cruel twist of fate if ever there was one.
“It’s just going to be a crazy, wild atmosphere,” Scherzer said. “This was going to happen at some point. It was weird when I had that Dodgers uniform on, too. You get used to it; you get used to playing for another team. You go out there and just compete and have fun.”
The Nationals formally welcomed Scherzer back to town with a tribute video prior to Thursday’s season opener. He then trotted out from the Mets dugout as the first player from the visiting team to be introduced, and as the crowd saluted he doffed his cap and waved.
Scherzer will be all business tonight, though, and both sides would have it no other way.
“It’s usually a head nod (for a former teammate), which I won’t give Max because he’s going to be locked in,” Bell said. “He won’t give one back.”
The highlight of the night might very well come two batters into the bottom of the first when Juan Soto digs in to face Scherzer for the first of what should be many high-profile showdowns over the next three years.
“It’s going to be fun,” Soto said. “Even when he was here, he was talking to me, he was going back and forth 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. He’s going to try to strike me out, and I will try my best to not strike out because I know he wants that really bad.”
At some point, maybe his second start against the Nationals, maybe his fourth or fifth, it will begin to feel normal. But not yet.
“I’ve always said Max Scherzer is one of the best. Now he’s wearing a different uniform,” manager Davey Martinez said. “For me to see him for the first time in that uniform, it’s going to sting a little bit, absolutely. But the memories are never going to go away that we’ve had together.”
“A lot of good memories here. There always will be good memories here,” Scherzer said. “But nothing lasts forever. As my baseball journey goes on, I’m here in New York and excited about what the future holds.”