Schwarber’s walk-off bomb sends Nats to victory (updated)

Max Scherzer gave the Nationals exactly what they needed, reminding everyone this team still is built on the broad shoulders of a rotation that may be showing cracks in some spots but remains rock-solid at the very top.

Great starting pitching, however, can’t win a ballgame all by itself. Somebody’s got to score a run at some point.

Which the Nats finally did in the bottom of the ninth. On the first official Schwarbomb in club history.

Kyle Schwarber launched a 463-foot moonshot onto the concourse beyond the second deck in deep right field, delivering the one and only run that was necessary for a 1-0 victory over the Diamondbacks before a jubilant crowd of 8,056 that sat through a long, cold night and was rewarded with a brilliant pitching performance and a walk-off win.

“I wish it came sooner,” Schwarber said in his postgame Zoom session with reporters. “But to have it in that situation, to walk it off there in front of all the fans here, it’s phenomenal. That’s a moment I’m not going to forget.”

Schwarber connected on a 2-1 sinker from Arizona lefty Alex Young, a no-doubter over the right field bullpen and over both decks that reside above it on a night when Scherzer churned out seven scoreless innings of two-hit ball and struck out 10 to surpass the biggest name in pitching on baseball’s all-time list.

“I don’t even know where it landed,” said Scherzer, who was watching on a TV in the trainer’s room, a celebratory beverage waiting in his hand. “By the time it got into the air, I had already cracked the beer open and was ready to start partying.”

Despite his dominant performance, Scherzer nonetheless departed with no decision when his teammates couldn’t scratch across a run while he was still in the game. Nor could they score for Daniel Hudson following a lights-out top of the eighth.

But when Brad Hand finished off the top of the ninth with another zero on the board, the Nats finally came through at the plate and found a way to win the game.

“I thought it was just a matter of time before we’d be able to score a run or two,” manager Davey Martinez said. “We just had to stay in the ballgame.”

On the heels of Thursday’s disastrous start by Patrick Corbin, both the Nationals and Scherzer knew what was needed tonight. And it was clear from the outset he would deliver the goods.

Scherzer-Fires-Blue-Ariz-Sidebar.jpgScherzer allowed a one-out single to Kole Calhoun in the top of the first, then - by his account - got away with a mistake to former teammate Asdrubal Cabrera, who sent a fastball to the warning track in right field that was caught by Juan Soto.

“I got lucky in the first, I’ll say that,” the right-hander acknowledged. “I threw a pitch to Cabby, a down-and-in fastball, which is just a terrible pitch to him. And he’s even made that he didn’t hit that out. And I thought he should’ve hit it out. I got away with one.”

But that’s all the Diamondbacks would muster against him for a long time. Thirteen straight batters dug in against him after the Calhoun single, and all 13 were retired. At one point, Scherzer struck out six of nine batters faced.

He did it with a fastball that showed more life than in either of his previous two starts. Dialing it up to 95-96 mph on several occasions, he came to rely on the fastball far more than anything else in his arsenal. And why not? At one point, the Diamondbacks had swung at 16 fastballs from Scherzer. They fouled off three. They put three into play. And they whiffed at the other 10.

“It had some life into it,” he said of his fastball. “I was able to get into it a little better today. But I’m just getting going here. It’s not necessarily about the fastball, even though that definitely helps, don’t get me wrong. But it’s also sequencing, pitching, hitting your spots. I can throw the ball as hard as I want, but if it’s down the middle, these guys can hit it out of the ballpark. It’s more than just velo. It’s about execution, and execution with every pitch that you’ve got.”

Scherzer executed a lot tonight. When he got Josh VanMeter with a 94 mph heater to open the seventh, the Nationals ace stood alongside an awfully big name in the history of his professional. His eighth strikeout brought his career total to 2,806, tied for 22nd all-time with a guy named Cy Young. (Two batters later, he had not only passed Young but extended his lead, capping off a brilliant night with a flourish.)

“It’s pretty cool,” Scherzer said. “I didn’t even know that was happening tonight. But for me, it’s just a test of durability. To be able to go out there and just be durable year in and year out, to be able to execute pitches, that’s what I take away from passing Cy Young, one of the greatest of all time.”

Alas, what good was any of that if Scherzer’s teammates couldn’t provide him any run support? It happened Sunday against Clayton Kershaw at Dodger Stadium, and it happened again tonight against Taylor Widener at Nationals Park.

The Nats had a few chances against Widener than the Diamondbacks had against Scherzer, but they couldn’t make the most of them. They stranded a runner in scoring position in the second, wasted one-out walk and stolen base from Trea Turner in the third, then left another man in scoring position in the fifth.

It was another frustrating performance from a lineup that had already been shut out three times this young season (once with Scherzer on the mound) and was now in danger of doing it again.

And yet at the end of a cold night at the ballpark, there was reason for joy, for a mob scene at the plate, for a cracked-open beer for the man who set the tone for seventh innings and for a Gatorade shower for the man who ended the game with a titanic blast.

“The way Max went out and pitched the ball today was unbelievable,” Schwarber said. “And I think we all wished we could’ve gotten him a win there and scored some runs earlier for him. But you know what? It’s just how this game works. We’re not out there trying to get shut out. We’re out there trying to put up some good at-bats and bring in some runs. I think if that’s the Max we’re going to get all year, he’s going to get a lot of wins.”

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