But a sloppy eighth inning, in which the Rangers scored four runs on just one hit, blew open a tie game and led Texas to a 5-1 win and series sweep over the Nationals.
It was the first series sweep of the Nationals at home this season.
In the game-changing eighth, Texas benefited from a fielding error by Anthony Rendon and a Matt Wieters passed ball, but also was aggressive with a double steal that put the heat on reliever Blake Treinen.
The Rangers broke open the game with four runs in the frame, highlighted by an Elvis Andrus two-run triple. The triple was scorched down the left field line and barely stayed fair.
Before Andrus connected, Wieters' passed ball on Treinen's first offering allowed Delino DeShields to score from third.
"Yeah, just a little cross-up," Wieters said. "It's just unfortunate it happens with the bases loaded and nobody out. We will work on it and improve and get on the same page.
"Looking for a slider. Blake's got such a good sinker, at 98 mph it was tough. Some guys, I can get the glove back over for, I couldn't get the glove over for him."
Then Andrus delivered the backbreaking triple down the left field line. Manager Dusty Baker said just because Andrus' hit was close to going foul and a tough play doesn't soften the blow in the loss.
"It's not easy to swallow, but you know there's not a whole bunch you can do about that," Baker said. "I didn't see on the replay, but that ball had to just hit the chalk or just be inside the chalk. It was bounding high and up, you couldn't even jump for it."
Scherzer went 7 1/3 innings, allowing three runs, two earned, on three hits with one walk and 10 strikeouts. Scherzer has now struck out at least 10 or more batters in four consecutive starts, matching a career high. He now has 56 games with more 10 or more strikeouts in his career.
When the Nationals bullpen has faltered, as it did in the last two games of the series against the Rangers, how much do these losses wear on the starters who do their jobs with quality starts?
"Everybody's frustrated," Scherzer said. "It was a tight ballgame all the way through. I was getting matched pitch for pitch. That Texas lineup has a good lineup over there, and at any moment, they can explode."
Scherzer said he lamented the at-bat against pinch-hitter Jurickson Profar with one out and a man on in the eighth. He walked Profar and then was replaced by Oliver PÃ©rez. PÃ©rez walked Shin-Soo Choo, who had homered earlier against Scherzer.
"An unfortunate error on an unfortunate hop, sometimes that happens, then I just couldn't stay within the zone there in the eighth against Profar," Scherzer said. "Just put a good at-bat against me. Sometimes walks happen. I have to take responsibility for that, and know I have to pound the zone early in the count."
The loss stings even more because Scherzer was rolling early on, as he has the last four starts. He recorded his 10th strikeout when he punched out Rougned Odor in the seventh.
Scherzer's strikeout of Nomar Mazara in the fourth was also a milestone: the 2,000 strikeout of his career. He became the third-fastest pitcher to reach 2,000 strikeouts based on innings pitched. Pedro Martinez reached the 2,000 plateau in 1,711 1/3 innings and Randy Johnson in 1,733 1/3 innings; Scherzer in 1,784.
But Scherzer said reaching the milestone in a loss takes away some of the luster for now.
"It's really cool. One of these days, I'll actually reflect on it," Scherzer said. "But it kind of stings a little bit when you get it in a loss."
"It's crazy to hear me mentioned even among those guys," he said. "Those are my pitching idols. I'm growing up watching those guys. So any type of mention of anything among those guys - I don't know, it doesn't even seem real. But, yeah, strikeouts are part of my game."
Scherzer said the key to strikeouts is not wasting pitches.
"I'm looking to generate strikeouts in every way I can. It's about how you throw finishing pitches at the at-bat, trying to dissect hitters to figure out how to increase (strikeouts). But try to do it efficiently," Scherzer said. "I'm not trying to throw six or seven pitches just to be able to strike you out. I'm trying to do it in three or four. It's the homework and the process between starts that I really focus on to help me do that."
The offense was cold thanks to an impressive effort by a pitcher who spent time with the Nationals organization in 2012 in the minors, mostly with Triple-A Syracuse. Right-hander Austin Bibens-Dirkx went seven innings, scattering three hits, allowing only a leadoff solo homer by Brian Goodwin.
Wieters lamented a chance in the seventh. With two outs, Rendon singled and Adam Lind walked. Wieters grounded out to first base unassisted to end the threat.
"It all goes back to have the opportunity in the seventh to be able to kind of give him a lead and if I can get a hit there in the seventh you know Max maybe even steps it up another level," Wieters said.
"It's tough. It seems like (Bibens-Dirkx) had about six different versions of off-speed pitches. Felt like I had some pitches to hit and couldn't quite barrel them up. Can't really pinpoint why. Sometimes he was able to mix and match his off-speed for strikes, which made it a little bit difficult. You got to tip your cap to him."
But Baker said his club needs to turn the page. The Nationals expect Zimmerman and Turner back Monday when Atlanta arrives.
"It was a bad weekend," Baker said. "We got to get rid of it, go get some rest tonight and then come back against the Braves smoking tomorrow."