He took the mound wearing a double-knit polyester, powder blue Expos uniform and tri-colored cap. His pant legs were short, his royal blue socks pulled up high. Nothing about the image suggested this was Max Scherzer.
Until he began pitching, of course. From that point on, anyone in attendance at Nationals Park on Expos Day could easily look past the throwback uniform and recognize the ace right-hander putting together yet another quintessential performance.
Picking up right where he left off after an award-winning June, Scherzer was brilliant again today in shutting out the Royals over seven innings and leading the Nationals to a 6-0 win on the day they honored their franchise’s origins.
Scherzer may have been wearing a 1969 Expos uniform, but his performance thus far in 2019 feels like it’s straight out of 1968: the famed “Year of the Pitcher” that prompted Major League Baseball to lower the mound just in time for a new expansion franchise to debut in Montreal.
Remember when the Nationals won only two of Scherzer’s first 12 starts this season? Yeah, that’s a distant memory now because he’s won each of his last seven.
“I played in Atlanta, and those guys they had were pretty good,” manager Davey Martinez said. “But what I’ve seen out of Max is incredible. It really is. No runs? I don’t know how many games now where he keeps getting better and better as we go along.”
This remarkable run really began nine starts ago, on May 22 at Citi Field in a game his bullpen would blow despite his six scoreless frames. In these nine starts, Scherzer is now 7-0 with an 0.84 ERA, 0.766 WHIP, 94 strikeouts and only nine walks in 64 innings. He has lowered his season ERA to 2.30, third-best in the majors.
“I think we appreciate what he does, because we know how hard it is,” shortstop Trea Turner said. “I think some people forget how hard it is to go out there and be that good every single day, every single time he pitches.”
Oh, and did we mention Scherzer put up seven more zeroes while striking out 11 today while pitching in extreme heat and humidity, in the aforementioned polyester uniform, only 48 hours after his wife, Erica, gave birth to the couple’s second daughter?
“I had no doubt in my mind that he was going to be locked in today,” catcher Kurt Suzuki said. “This guy, like I said many times, is one of the fiercest competitors. This guy prepares himself as good as anybody I’ve ever been around. There’s no doubt in my mind he was going to be ready. Maybe the sleep factor, but he was going to be ready.”
Scherzer went on paternity leave Wednesday evening, joined Erica for the birth of young Kacey Hart Scherzer on Independence Day, then officially returned to the active roster this morning to make his start as scheduled. Everything went according to plan.
Not that Scherzer ever doubted it would.
“Erica, she wanted me to pitch today,” he said. “She wants me out there pitching. She doesn’t want me sitting at home. She wants me pitching. We got the in-laws in. We got help. She’s a baseball wife. She’s a pitcher. She knows she wants me out there competing.”
Scherzer labored just a bit early on, at least by his standards. The Royals put two men on base and ran up his pitch count to 25 in the top of the first. But Scherzer was all business after that. He struck out Kansas City’s leadoff man in the second, third and fourth innings. The four hits he surrendered all came in separate innings.
And as he does so often, Scherzer saved his best for last. He struck out the side in the seventh and stalked off the mound to a standing ovation and handshakes in the home dugout.
Did we mention that he also singled and stole second base in the bottom of the fourth? Because he did. That made this the second time in his career he has recorded a hit, a stolen base and at least 10 strikeouts in a game. He’s the only pitcher in MLB history to have done that twice, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
“The minute (first baseman Lucas Duda) went behind him, I said: ‘Here we go,’” Martinez said. “But you know what? He understands the game. He pays attention to the game. It’s just who he is.”
The Nationals already led 4-0 at that point, having gotten an RBI single from Juan Soto in the first, a two-run blast by Suzuki in the second and a nifty double-steal in which Turner was thrown out trying to swipe second while Victor Robles raced home from third.
The lineup would tack on two insurance runs in the seventh, and that provided extra cushion for the bullpen, which was able to complete the shutout and send this team into the final day before the All-Star break having won 27 of 38.
“Winning series is what we’ve talked about for the majority of the year,” Turner said. “Sweeps are nice, but if you can win every series you put yourself in a good position. So tomorrow’s another chance to win a series, and with the break coming up end on a win, too.”