In Game 1 of the World Series on Oct. 22, Nationals ace Max Scherzer ended up throwing 112 pitches to record 15 outs. The Astros scored two runs in the first inning. But after that, Houston managed only three hits off Scherzer. The Nats held on for a 5-4 victory.
Manager Davey Martinez said Scherzer has been working since right after Game 1 to this point devising a plan for adjustments to the way he went after Houston that first time around.
"After the first game, he's already sat down and kind of mapped out his gameplan for his next game," Martinez said. "So, as you know Max, he's all in. He's got a plan. Hopefully (Kurt) Suzuki can catch him. If not, then (Yan) Gomes does a great job with him as well, and he's caught it before. They'll have a plan going into tomorrow."
Scherzer spoke about who has the advantage the second game against the same opponent in less than a week: the hitter or the pitcher?
"It's just going to be a challenge," Scherzer said. "I think the only advantage of this is that I don't face the Houston Astros that much. In the National League that kind of happens a little bit more once you start getting 10 at-bats then I think that kind of equals out and maybe a hitter gets a little bit more advanced because they understand what you're going to do to them.
"I still feel that I could execute better and give their hitters just a little bit different look even though they did get to see me pitch against them and what it looks like. No matter what, it's always going to be a battle."
Scherzer has been through a lot this season, admitting his back issue that bothered him for a good part of the latter part of the season is behind him. He said it will be something he deals with on improving his body strength in the offseason to try to avoid a similar problem in 2020. So after 40 or so starts in a season, Scherzer also has to control the mental side as he approaches what will likely be his final start of the season in tonight's Game 5 call.
"It's a delicate balance," Scherzer said. "Really, you've got to let your body talk to you, let your body tell you what you need to do. Some days you need to be able to run more, some days lift more. Your body is going to tell you what you need to do. So you've just got to be in tune with where you're at. Every year is a little different. Especially now here I am 35 years old, it's a little different than I felt at 25 years old.
"For me it is what it is. You've just got -- there's still times where I'm lifting just as heavy, if not heavier, than I did earlier in my career, but there might be days I might not run as much. For me it's about knowing what my program is, knowing what I have to physically do to get ready and just come up with a plan each and every day."
One of the moments many Nats fans are used to witnessing is Scherzer's late-in-game-reaction when his manager comes to the mound to talk about how he is feeling and if it is a good time to come out of the game and allow the bullpen to take over. The drama usually ends before it begins, with Max shooing Davey away so he can finish the job.
"My relationship with him is really unique in the fact that, I won't say I have a lot of say, but that he listens to different things that I bring to him and different ideas of how I want to almost kind of manage myself," Scherzer said. "So that when we get in different situations in tight ball games that he's not shocked by whatever decision that we both make."
One big concern for tonight's game is the status of Suzuki, Scherzer's usual battery mate. Suzuki is a gametime decision after suffering a hip flexor injury in Game 3. Suzuki sat out Game 4.
"He was available in an emergency," Martinez said of Suzuki. "Hopefully he feels a lot better tomorrow. We'll see how he feels better tomorrow. He usually catches Max. If he feels better, I know he's in there getting treatment right now, and if he wakes up, he's going to come in early and work on his hip flexor. If he feels good, then possibly he gets a chance to play."
But if Suzuki is not close to 100 percent, then Gomes will get the call. Scherzer is good with that too, even if it is not his regular catcher.
"We've worked really well together, just being in sync of what pitch to throw and even in big situations," Scherzer said of Suzuki. "But I've also worked with Yan this year several times. Even when Zuk was down there in September, there was a handful of games where I was throwing to Yan.
"And so we do have a rapport with each other, we do understand what's going on. And Yan is very astute to the game of being able to watch what's going on and how I sequence guys and what we want to do. He's catching tonight so he's going to be able to see whatever is going on, get his feet wet. I feel comfortable throwing to Yan, as well."
Gomes: "I'm always in the middle of them talking. I got to catch him early on (this season) too. It's just a matter of getting some good conversations in, and getting on the same page."
Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg have gone 8-0 in this postseason, a major factor in why the Nats are two games away from a title. Now the Nats turn to Scherzer again to keep them in the World Series for a chance to win it all.
With the possibility of tonight's game being Scherzer's last start of 2019 and being Game 5 of the World Series in close to a must-win situation, the veteran again will not let the moment overwhelm him. He has done this so many times before, including in the Fall Classic.
"(A)t this point in time, you literally just live and breathe each and every day," Scherzer said. "At this point in time it's just one day at a time. That's a clichÃ©, but man, is that so true that for us. For me, it's just coming here and watching Game 4 (last night), watching to see what happens and just react to that. And then when it's Game 5 just, hey, stay in the moment, understand what you're doing, feel the game flow, use your instincts and just pitch."