MIAMI - The list is one of the most exclusive in baseball history, with a bunch of names instantly recognizable even to casual fans. Only four men have ever thrown three career no-hitters in the modern era: Nolan Ryan, Sandy Koufax, Cy Young and Bob Feller.
And Max Scherzer came oh so close to becoming the fifth. Before, in staggering and sudden fashion, taking the hardest-luck loss of his career.
After seeing his latest no-hit bid broken up on an infield single with one out in the bottom of the eighth, Scherzer proceeded to surrender the tying and then go-ahead runs despite only one ball reaching the outfield during the bizarre rally.
And because their lineup had managed only one run in the game to that point, the Nationals wound up suffering a 2-1 loss to the Marlins that felt as cruel as any they’ve suffered this season.
Scherzer was cruising, needing only five more outs to secure his third career no-hitter, but with a pitch count that had already reached triple digits, causing manager Dusty Baker to pace in the dugout. A.J. Ellis broke up the no-hitter with a chopper that deflected off Scherzer’s outstretched glove and could not be cleanly corralled by shortstop Trea Turner.
The nightmare scenario was only just beginning. Scherzer got JT Riddle to ground out, then appeared to get out of the inning on J.T. Realmuto’s grounder to short. But Adam Lind (filling in for Ryan Zimmerman at first base) couldn’t hang onto Turner’s low throw, and now the Marlins had runners on the corners with two outs as Scherzer stewed through his sweat-soaked jersey and cap.
His pitch count now at 114, Scherzer hit Dee Gordon with his next offering, loading the bases and bringing Giancarlo Stanton to the plate. Then he uncorked a wild pitch over Jose Lobaton’s glove, and now the game was tied, with a fearsome hitter still at the plate with two men in scoring position.
And when Stanton lined a ball to left field just in front of Ryan Raburn’s glove - on Scherzer’s 121st pitch - the go-ahead run scored. Raburn did throw out the trailing runner at the plate, but the damage was done. The Nationals went down in the bottom of the ninth, and with that they trudged away with a gut-wrenching loss on a day when their ace seemed on the verge of history.
Not that it hasn’t been the case most times he pitches, but Scherzer had “the look” right from the get-go this afternoon. He struck out three batters in the bottom of the first, and though a walk of Christian Yelich was sprinkled into the mix, he still clearly had the look of dominance.
That hunch proved accurate, because Scherzer kept it up all afternoon. He struck out three more in the bottom of the second, with one slightly errant pitch grazing Derek Dietrich along the way. That, by the way, represented the second time Scherzer has struck out six through two innings. This month.
The Marlins finally put a ball in play in the bottom of the third, but all that did was help Scherzer begin to make his elevated pitch count a bit more manageable. He needed 50 of them to get through the third inning, but then he needed only 35 more to get through his next three frames.
Along the way, Scherzer added another remarkable notch to a remarkable stat: He has now carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning in 11 of his 82 starts with the Nationals. That’s 13 percent of his starts in a Washington uniform, a staggering fact.