The Nationals made a miraculous comeback Tuesday night to beat the Brewers 4-3 in the National League wild card game. Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg combined for eight innings, allowing only three runs. Then Daniel Hudson worked the ninth and found a way to record three outs for the save.
But it did not start off well for Scherzer, who made the start. The right-hander allowed two early homers in the first two innings. Before he could get comfortable, the ace of the staff was down 3-0 after two innings. Yasmani Grandal hit a two-run shot and Eric Thames a solo homer.
“I just felt like I went in and layed everything on the line,” Scherzer said. “(Thames) hit a very good pitch. I threw a backdoor curve ball down in the zone and he hit for a homer. Just got to tip your hat and move on. I talked to (Kurt Suzuki) after that inning, and he was like, don’t get mad at that pitch. Don’t get mad. You had the right thought, just keep doing your thing ... just believe in the team and we’ll come back and win.”
After that, Scherzer settled down and put together three scoreless innings. He allowed a couple of walks in the fifth, but got out of the inning on a Mike Moustakas pop up to third and a strikeout of Keston Hiura.
“I felt good, man,” Scherzer said in a rambunctious clubhouse afterward. “Ball was really coming out of my hands. I had a couple of bad pitches, but man, it doesn’t matter. Just find a way to keep grinding and don’t let it get out of control, avoid the big inning. And then Stras came in and did his thing, shut the door three times and then Huddy shut the door to win it.”
Catcher Kurt Suzuki said the Brewers attacked Scherzer’s stuff early and connected. So when he got back to the dugout with the right-hander, they made some changes to their strategy.
“They came out swinging the bats,” Suzuki said. “They were aggressive early against the fastball. They came out and clipped us a couple of times. Good pitches. Sometimes you just tip your hat. That’s where you make the in-game adjustment. You figure it out. Obviously, after those two innings right there, he came out and started punching guys out and making big pitches for us.”
When Strasburg took over in the sixth inning in his first career relief appearance, he was on target. Strasburg allowed two hits in three shutout innings, striking out four and walking none. The veteran of 239 starts since 2010 said coming out of the bullpen was not as strange as some might think for pitcher used to a pregame regimen.
“I think it’s closer to starting,” Strasburg said. “I treat it like a start as best as I could. Just try and prepare mentally. Once I was going to go in there, I was going to go for multiple innings.”
Strasburg (1-0) was seen warming up during Scherzer’s start by simulating pitches with a towel. An extended bottom of the fifth bought Strasburg some more time. Nationals manager Davey Martinez tried to stretch out that warm up time for Strasburg.
“The biggest thing was probably he knew that I needed to get more time than other guys,” Strasburg said. “They already told me I was going to come in for a clean inning. So I was able to get my routine in, get the necessary amount of throws on the bullpen mound and be ready to go.”
Suzuki felt Strasburg was bringing heat early in his outing as well, but with much better results than Scherzer.
“Maybe an uptick in velocity, but not really much,” Suzuki said of Strasburg. “He’s so cool and calm, so businesslike. He’s a pro. It’s pretty fun to see.”
“I saw Stras throw when he was younger, coming back from Tommy John surgery, and just watching him develop over the years, and now being with him watching how he goes about his business. This guy is one of the hardest workers, great teammate. He’s just so awesome to see.”
Martinez said the Nats thought about pinch-hitting for Scherzer in the third inning with the team down 3-0. But he elected to keep Scherzer in.
“We thought about it, but the thing is to try to get Stras through the later innings as well,” Martinez said. “Scherzer settled down after the first two innings. He was dynamite. We rode him as long as we could.”
Hudson recorded three outs in the ninth for the save. The right-hander struck out the Thames, allowed a single to Lorenzo Cain, then he got a popup behind the plate from Orlando Arcia and a flyout to deep center field by Ben Gamel to end the game.
“It was like nothing I’ve ever experienced before,” Hudson said. “It was an absolute madhouse. Just coming in from the bullpen, everybody was still so jacked up about (Juan) Soto’s hit and then us taking the lead. I didn’t really have time to think about anything. It was just, ‘Let’s go.’ I was up the whole inning.
“I was going to throw the ninth regardless. I don’t think anything mentally changes, just go in there and try to get three outs.”
Suzuki described his mindset for the Gamel at-bat with two outs and the game on the line, a ticket to Los Angeles waiting if the Nats recorded one more out.
“That was unbelievable. I had goosebumps while I was catching,” Suzuki said. “I said, ‘Here we go, baby. Let’s just make this pitch and we get out of here.’ He hit that ball and I said, ‘Oh, my God.’ I couldn’t believe it.”