Nats ride Scherzer's dominance, clutch hits to 4-1 win over Cubs

This time, the Nationals put together a bunch of quality at-bats against the Cubs. And Max Scherzer was able to carve up Chicago's lineup, aside from the one ball that left the yard against him on an otherwise spectacular night on South Capitol Street.

Behind Scherzer's pitching brilliance, Wilson Ramos' homer and clutch hits from Danny Espinosa and Ben Revere, the Nationals won the opener of their highly anticipated rematch series with the Cubs 4-1 before a fired-up crowd of 37,187.

Scherzer was perfect for 5 1/3 innings until Addison Russell homered down the left field line to break up his latest attempt at history. But that was the lone blip for the right-hander on a night when he had everything working and gave everyone in attendance legitimate reason to believe they might witness something special.

Max Scherzer red throwing home.jpgScherzer struck out nine of the first 10 batters he faced, briefly leaving himself ahead of the pace from his record-tying 20-strikeout game against the Tigers earlier this season. His strikeout pace dropped off after that, but he continued to record nothing but outs, ultimately retiring 16 consecutive Chicago batters before Russell hammered his 3-2 slider down the left field line in the top of the sixth.

That was the 17th homer surrendered this season by Scherzer, tops in the NL and tied for the major league lead. But unlike his last start against the Cubs, when he gave up four long drives, this time it proved harmless.

Scherzer wound up allowing just one other hit - Anthony Rizzo's double - and zero walks before being pulled for a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the seventh. He struck out 11, the fifth time in the last two calendar years he has recorded at least that many punchouts without issuing a walk.

This also, incredibly, was the seventh time in 47 starts since joining the Nationals that Scherzer has carried a no-hitter into at least the sixth inning.

Scherzer's teammates made sure to produce enough offensive support to put him in line for the win. They took a 1-0 lead in the third inning when Jayson Werth scored all the way from first base on Bryce Harper's single to center after disrupting the throw to third and watching the ball scoot away from Kris Bryant.

Russell's homer tied the game in the top of the sixth, but the Nationals responded immediately with a trio of runs in the bottom of the frame. Ramos' opposite-field homer (which Jason Heyward nearly robbed with a leap at the fence) gave them the lead back. Espinosa and Revere then came through with RBI singles to provide some insurance.

Despite a save situation in the ninth, Dusty Baker chose not to summon closer Jonathan Papelbon (who surrendered a game-tying homer to the Phillies on Sunday). Right-hander Shawn Kelley, who struck out the final two batters of the eighth, re-took the mound for the ninth and promptly retired the side to record his first save of the year.

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