Nationals fans finally got a chance to give Jordan Zimmermann the standing ovation they wanted to last September. But they’re cheering louder for Max Scherzer each time their new ace strikes out a member of Zimmermann’s Tigers lineup.
In a marquee matchup of elite pitchers facing their former teams, Zimmermann and Scherzer have been front-and-center at Nationals Park early on tonight.
Fans gave Zimmermann two loud ovations in the first three innings alone: When he was announced as part of Detroit’s starting lineup and when he stepped to the plate for the first time. The right-hander, who signed a five-year, $110 million contract last winter after spending his entire career to date with the Nats, backed out of the batter’s box and reluctantly tipped his helmet.
It perhaps brought some sense of closure to the Zimmermann-Washington relationship, which ended on good terms last season but without the kind of final ovation one might have expected after ex-manager Matt Williams pulled his starter in between innings, removing the possibility of an acknowledgement from fans as he walked off the mound at Nationals Park for the final time.
The crowd tonight has showered Zimmermann with praise several times, but the loudest ovations have been reserved for positive moments for the home team. The first came in the bottom of the first, when Daniel Murphy’s single to left-center brought homer Anthony Rendon with the evening’s first run.
Most of the other cheers have gone to Scherzer, who in his first start against Detroit since signing with the Nationals in January 2015, has flashed some electric stuff. Scherzer has eight strikeouts through three innings, with leadoff man Ian Kinsler (who popped up) the only batter so far to make an out putting the ball in play.
It hasn’t been complete domination for Scherzer, though. No. 8 hitter Jose Iglesias surprised him by jumping on a first-pitch fastball in the top of the third and sending over the fence in left field, leaving this game tied 1-1.
Update: Make it 11 strikeouts for Scherzer through five innings. Only four outs he has recorded have been on balls in play.
Zimmermann has been cruising as well, giving up just a hit and a walk since the first inning. And so this remains a 1-1 game after five innings of a fantastic pitchers’ duel.
Update II: Scherzer has 13 strikeouts through six innings, and now he has a lead. The Nats pusehd across a run in the bottom of the sixth thanks to a single by Rendon, a walk by Harper (in his third straight plate appearance vs. Zimmermann that went to a full count) and an RBI single by Murphy (now hitting a cool .405). Murphy, moved into the cleanup spot tonight, has driven in both runs tonight. And so the Nats have taken a 2-1 lead after six.
Update III: Make it 3-1 after Danny Espinosa crushed a homer to center field off Zimmermann in the bottom of the seventh. Just a big-time shot. All of this came after Scherzer had to pitch his way out of a real jam: second and third, one out. He struck out both James McCann and Anthony Gose, giving him 15 strikeouts through seven innings and keeping the Tigers from scoring.
Update IV: Make it 18 strikeouts for Scherzer through eight incredible innings. He needs two more in the ninth to match the all-time record for a nine-inning game, three more to break it. Unbelievable.
Update V: He did it, folks! Max Scherzer has tied the all-time record with 20 strikeouts in a nine-inning game, joining Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson and Kerry Wood. Nats win 3-2.