Phillies starter Sean O’Sullivan has probably seen enough of Max Scherzer this season and we’re not even through May. Not only did Scherzer outpitch O’Sullivan for the third time this season, but he also beat him with a base hit in the sixth inning that led to Scherzer scoring the game-winning run in the Nationals’ 2-1 victory.
It’s the Nationals’ sixth straight win, their longest streak of the season, and their 18-4 (.818) record in their past 22 games matches the best 22-game stretch in team history (2005-present).
But tonight was the Scherzer show. He spotted the Phillies an early run in the second but Bryce Harper took care of that when he answered with a solo homer, his 16th, in the bottom of the inning. From then on, Scherzer mowed down the Phillies, allowing just the lone run on four hits with one walk and six strikeouts for his fifth win of the season.
“Willy (Ramos) and I had a great feel of what to do today,” Scherzer said. “He did a great job behind the plate. I just thought I was able to pitch with my curveball today, that was the difference. Early in the game, I was able to flip it in the zone and out of the zone when I needed to. So when I’m able to do that, I always have a feel for my changeup, so it really allows me to pitch with three pitches to lefties, kind of keep them at bay multiple times through the lineup.”
But as good as Scherzer was on the mound, it was his offensive prowess that was the talk of the Nats clubhouse after the win.
The right-hander led off the sixth inning with an impressive at-bat against O’Sullivan, fighting off a couple pitches before sharply lining a single to right field.
“I was just trying to put the ball in play with two strikes,” Scherzer said. “I was just trying to compete up there. I was ready for any off-speed and it was just kind of an emergency hack when I saw the fastball. Fortunately, it found a hole.”
Once on base, the speedster Scherzer took over. Two batters later, Ian Desmond ripped an O’Sullivan slider off the center field wall, just missing his third homer in as many games. But Desmond’s bullet was good enough for a double and Scherzer was off to the races.
He rounded second with his head up and looking for Nationals third base coach Bobby Henley.
“Sure enough, Bobby down there gave me the sign to go home and just do everything I can to score that run,” he said.
With a full head of steam, Scherzer motored around third, briefly stumbling. But it didn’t matter as he scored easily for the go-ahead run.
“Just kudos to Max,” Desmond said. “That’s tough baserunning, no offense, but for a pitcher. It’s funny, the other day we were out at second base during BP and he was talking to me about baserunning, getting reads off the bat, stuff like that. It’s little things like that that make him special, that make him the competitor that he is.”
Scherzer crossed the plate and was met by a stream of aggressive high fives from his Nats teammates, led by Harper.
“I was fired up, definitely,” Harper said. “Desi coming up big in that situation with the double off the wall. Maxie scoring on that ... that’s a guy that wants to get that run for himself and for the team. He threw a great game tonight. It’s so impressive to see him go about his business the right way every single day and come in every fifth day and do what he does. It’s a lot of fun to watch.”
What did Scherzer’s manager Matt Williams think about the sprint around the base paths?
“Not bad. There was a little issue with third base, but he made it and that’s all that matters,” Williams said.
Desmond’s morsel about Scherzer’s asking for advice reveals how much of a gamer the former Cy Young Award winner is. Scherzer came up with the Diamondbacks in 2008 and played two seasons in the National League. But there was little to no emphasis put on offense once he was traded to the Tigers in 2010. So when Scherzer returned to the NL with the Nats this season, he made it a point to take the offensive side of the game seriously. That didn’t change even after he injured his thumb while hitting which caused him to miss a start last month.
“He wants to score runs, two-strike approach,” Desmond said. “Talking about just when he swings, how he swings, his approach at the plate. It’s good. That’s stuff that they should take more heavy-heartedly, I guess you could say. It paid dividends tonight and got him the ‘W.’”
Williams watched his ace do it all tonight en route to his fourth straight win.
“He loves to play the game,” Williams said.