When the call finally came from Major League Baseball on Saturday afternoon, inviting Max Scherzer to his eighth All-Star Game as a replacement player for a pitcher who was throwing Sunday or had to beg off with an injury, the Nationals ace reacted with the glee of a rookie rather than the carefully measured words of a grizzled 14-year veteran.
“Just excited. Awesome. Anytime, it’s a heck of an accomplishment,” Scherzer said in a Zoom call with reporters before Saturday’s game against the Giants. “You’re always excited, whether it’s your first one (or) your eighth one. It’s such an honor to be named an All-Star. It takes a lot of work - a lot of thanks to everybody here in the Nationals organization for working their butts off for me to go there. Just proud to be able to represent the Nationals.”
If All-Star nominations are old hat for the 36-year-old Scherzer, you’d be hard-pressed to get him to admit that. Never mind that he’s made every Midsummer Classic since 2013. It’s still a kick for him.
Ask Scherzer to detail his greatest All-Star memory - and he’s had a few, starting with starting the 2017 and 2018 versions for the National League - and he fumbles while trying to pick out just one recollection. He’s played with some of the greatest players in the game - including the final All-Star Games in the careers of Hall of Famers Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter - and got to start for the home fans when the 2018 game came to D.C.
“Each one kind of has its own story, I would say. Each one means something a little bit different every time you go,” Scherzer said. “Each city has its own unique experiences, so you just try to appreciate each one for what it is. For me, really excited for this to be the eighth one.”
Going to Coors Field in Denver means a trip to wife Erica’s hometown and a visit with her parents, who still live there. While Scherzer was at first snubbed when All-Star rosters were announced, he counseled his better half to be patient even though she was determined to make arrangements for the entire family to fly to Colorado.
“Her parents live there, so they’ll be able to get out there and (the kids) be able to see their grandparents as well,” he said. “For her, it’s special in that way, that we have family there. And that helps out with the kids. Because All-Star Games are nuts; it’s 48 hours of chaos. It’s a party, and I love parties.”
A student of the game who pays close attention to baseball history, Scherzer will also get an opportunity to fill a new role in Denver. Where he was once the wide-eyed diamond savant soaking in everything he could from more experienced players, Scherzer is now the veteran, a reversal of roles that has not gone unnoticed.
“That’s why I take pride in this - because it’s hard to be in this position, it’s hard to be at the All-Star level,” he said. “To be able to be recognized. It takes other people to vote you in - and I get it - and to have that type of recognition, to be able to do that year in and year out, I take a lot of pride in the fact that I’ve been consistent and I’ve been durable.”
Not so long ago, like when he signed a seven-year, $210 million free agent deal with the Nats, people questioned Scherzer’s ability to stay healthy. Needless to say, he’s rendered the long-ago criticism a moot point by anchoring a staff and winning two Cy Young Awards in D.C.
“That was the major talking point against me, that I was going to be an injury risk and durability was going to be my issue,” Scherzer said. “And yet I feel like I’ve flipped the script and made durability my strength. I take a lot of pride in that. Sometimes, when the narrative’s (written) against you, you don’t have to follow it; you can actually make your own narrative.”
When he arrives in Denver and takes his place in the home clubhouse at Coors Field, none of that will matter anymore. In fact, even though the game will be a competitive one matching baseball’s best bats and arms, Scherzer noted how camaraderie will also be a major factor in the festivities.
“Everybody’s got a smile on their face. There’s no hostility whatsoever,” he said. “You get to put the competitive juices away and be on the same team for once. ... It’s a whole different perspective to be able to go out there and be on the field with the best players in the game. I think that puts a smile on everybody’s face.”
“It’s awesome. I mean, I’m happy for Max, like I said before. I thought he deserved to go (and) he’s getting an opportunity to go,” manager Davey Martinez said, adding that Scherzer will be available to work an inning or two. “Another player gets to represent us, which is pretty awesome - we got four guys on the All-Star team. So congratulations to Max and his family. We’re all excited for them.”
Scherzer said the quartet is an example of how good the Nationals can be - and if they get some breaks in the second half, the Nats could be a surprise team to those who have already written their season off as an injury-plagued debacle.
“We’re hanging in there. We’re dealing with some injuries. We got bit pretty hard there for a bit, but we’re a pretty darn good team,” he said. “When you got three All-Stars, four All-Stars, everybody playing at a high level, you can do some things. Especially if we get (Stephen Strasburg) back. We know that if we get him back, that can really provide us with a shot in the arm to really get going.
“That’s the way we’re going to have to win this year, kind of mirrors what we did in 2019. Not saying that’s what’s going to happen, but we understand what it’s like to kind of be going through an injury bug, then come on and catch fire late. We understand that there’s a way to win ... but at the end of the day, you always want to be in first place. No one wants to be in second place; you always want to be in first place. It’s kind of both sides here. You understand why we are in the situation we are, but if we can play our best baseball in the second half, we can do some great things.”
Speaking of quieting the critics, Scherzer had a suggestion for those who think Soto drew a short straw in his first-round Home Run Derby battle with the Angels’ Shohei Ohtani. In fact, while some observers question whether the Monday night competition hurts or helps sluggers, Scherzer thinks it might jump-start Soto, who has had trouble elevating the ball this season, for a second-half surge.
The thin, Mile High air might be just the tonic Soto needs to get his slumbering lumber awakened, Scherzer said. Having hitting coach Kevin Long pitching to him isn’t going to hurt either.
“This is going to be interesting,” Scherzer said. “I know Ohtani, what he’s doing right now is absolutely unbelievable. ... But let’s not sleep on Juan here. Juan can get in a groove. I actually think this is going to be a great thing for him. I think he has a decent idea how he wants to attack the Home Run Derby: launch the ball in the air. A lot of times, we hear (and) you see different guys (say), ‘Home Run Derby really screws me up going into the second half.’ I think for Juan this is actually an opportunity. Use this and this might propel you in the second half.”