PHILADELPHIA - As Max Scherzer took the mound in the sixth inning of tonight’s 5-2 Nationals win over the Phillies, not one person was surprised that the imposing right-hander had yet to allow a single base runner.
Why would they be?
It was third time in as many starts that Scherzer had gone through five innings completely perfect. And it was coming on the heels of two of the most remarkable back-to-back pitching performances in the game’s history - a 16-strikeout one-hit shutout in Milwaukee on June 14 and last Saturday’s no-hit masterpiece over the Pirates.
The astonishment arrived when Phillies shortstop Freddy Galvis ripped a one-out double in the frame, ending Scherzer’s bid to join Reds left-hander Johnny Vander Meer as the only pitchers to throw consecutive no-hitters.
“It’s awesome that he was able to do that and an unbelievable feat,” said Scherzer of Vander Meer’s successive no-hitters in 1938. “It just seems so improbable to be able to that. You’re really speechless to be even mentioned with that.”
Scherzer admitted afterward that he let the thought of another no-hitter enter his mind during the game.
“A little bit,” he said. “Once you can get through the order the first time through, you got something going. And then, obviously, there you start piecing it together. I had something working. But it’s just so hard. It takes luck and you just gotta be on your point and when you make mistakes they gotta mishit it.”
Galvis didn’t mishit Scherzer’s hanging curveball in the sixth, pulling it down the right field line for two bases.
“Eventually, I was gonna run kinda out of luck there,” Scherzer said smirking.
Matt den Dekker was making his first start in right field and was playing defense for the first time ever behind Scherzer when he began chasing Galvis’ blistered ball into the corner.
“Off the bat, you’re just like, ‘That’s a hit, that doesn’t happen much,’ ” den Dekker said with amazement.
It was the first hit that Scherzer surrendered since Milwaukee’s Carlos Gomez blooped a broken-bat single into right field with one-out in the seventh inning of the shutout 12 days ago. Scherzer faced 54 batters in between hits, allowing just two baserunners over the span, one on a walk and the other on Jose Tabata’s infamous hit by pitch last Saturday.
“It’s just complete comfort,” manager Matt Williams said. “Dominance. Throwing the ball where he wants to throw it. Fifty-four batters between hits is pretty good.”
A reporter asked Scherzer if he had reached the point where getting outs was feeling automatic.
“Oh, my God, no,” Scherzer shot back to laughter. “Those guys are good. This is tough. Now you’re in divisional opponents and now they’re getting a look at you. The margin for error just shrinks even more and you gotta come up with new ways to get these guys out.”
Phillies second baseman Cesar Hernandez tagged Scherzer for another double to start the seventh. After Scherzer struck out Maikel Franco and Ryan Howard, Domonic Brown roped a double to left-center field allowing the first run to score against Scherzer in 24 2/3 innings.
More significantly, it ended the consecutive scoreless innings streak for the Nationals starting pitchers at 48 innings, the second-longest stretch in baseball history in the expansion era (since 1961). The Baltimore Orioles hold the record with a 54-inning scoreless mark in 1974.
“It’s awesome,” Scherzer said. “Anytime the starters are going out there and doing their job, it just does so much for the ballclub. It does so much for the bullpen. It just allows the offense to relax and continue to score runs, and keeps the pressure on their guys and getting into the back end of their bullpen. So when the starters do their jobs, it’s a great thing. We’ve been on a great run, as well.”
Scherzer ended up throwing 100 pitches on the night through eight innings, yielding two runs on five hits with seven strikeouts and no walks to secure the 100th win of his eight-year career.
“It means something,” he said proudly. “To be able to win 100 ballgames in the show, it’s special because you’ve had a lot of hard work over the years and a lot of good teammates to be able to put you in that position, and it’s very rewarding to be in the situation to have 100 career wins.”