LOS ANGELES -- Even before becoming teammates, Dodgers second baseman Trea Turner knew how good Max Scherzer was. He understood everything the right-hander had accomplished throughout his career.
But when Turner took the field on Oct. 2, 2015, against the Mets, just his seventh career start and his second on a Scherzer start day, Turner finally saw why the right-hander has a spot waiting for him in Cooperstown whenever he decides to stop pitching.
As Scherzer usually is when he toes the rubber, he was angry. He was pacing around the mound after every out, occasionally giving a half spin after every strikeout. His grunts were heard loudly around Citi Field. When Turner looked up at the scoreboard, Scherzer had a no-hitter going. A few innings later, Scherzer completed his second no-hitter of the season.
“I kind of knew then,” Turner said, when asked when he realized Scherzer was different from other pitchers. “I think these last couple of years I realized how good he is, because he shows up every fifth day and he takes the ball and competes. It’s not that other guys don’t, but it’s just hard to do.”
In Scherzer's first start with the Dodgers on Aug. 4, manager Dave Roberts also got an immediate look at the righty's intensity. At the end of another impressive inning against the Astros, Roberts slapped Scherzer’s rear end. Roberts remembers hearing Scherzer say something under his breath.
Every other day, Scherzer is a “goofball,” according to Turner. But when it’s his start day, Scherzer locks it in. Most starting pitchers are intense, but Scherzer takes it to another level, famously not enjoying being touched during his start days. It’s something that started during his days at the University of Missouri.
That intensity will be on full display on Wednesday when he takes the mound for the Dodgers in the win-or-go-home NL Wild Card Game against the Cardinals at Dodger Stadium.
“Obviously, you see him from afar and dominating,” said Dodgers outfielder Mookie Betts. “But just to be playing behind him, it’s so much more fun. It’s kind of amazing to watch greatness.”
Since joining the Dodgers, Scherzer has been nearly untouchable. In his first nine starts with the team, Scherzer recorded 79 strikeouts, going 7-0 with a 0.78 ERA. It was one of the best nine-game stretches in franchise history. The Dodgers went 9-0 in those starts.
Scherzer's last two starts didn't go as planned. He allowed five earned runs over five innings against the Rockies at Coors Field on Sept. 23. He followed that up with another subpar outing on Sept. 29, allowing six runs (five earned) over 5 1/3 against the Padres. The Dodgers came back to win both of those games, but it was the first time since 2014 that the right-hander allowed five or more earned runs in back-to-back starts.
Despite those two rough outings, Scherzer is putting together another strong season at age 37. He finished the year with a 2.47 ERA and is still one of the most feared pitchers in the league. Following another stellar season, Scherzer has a chance to join an exclusive club with a fourth Cy Young Award. That’s why Roberts, who called Scherzer “the best pitcher in baseball,” showed no hesitation in naming the future Hall of Famer as his Wild Card Game starter.
“We feel very good with Max taking the mound,” Roberts said. “I talk about betting on guys -- he’s an easy guy [to bet on].”
The Dodgers have certainly bet on Scherzer. In order to acquire Scherzer and Turner from Washington at the Trade Deadline, Los Angeles traded away four prospects, including its top two in right-hander Josiah Gray and catcher Keibert Ruiz.
It was somewhat of a gamble for the Dodgers, given that Scherzer is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. But the reality is that the team needed him. Los Angeles was without Clayton Kershaw and Tony Gonsolin at the time and was in desperate need of another starter. Trevor Bauer was also away from the team on paid administrative leave.
The Dodgers felt that even if they only got 11 regular-season starts from Scherzer, he was still going to be worth the price. He would give them a formidable three-headed monster with Walker Buehler and Julio Urías. Scherzer has been even better than they expected.
At this stage of his career, Scherzer also decided to bet on the Dodgers. He had a no-trade clause and had full control of where he could get traded. An American League East team had a deal in place to acquire Scherzer near the Trade Deadline, but he made it clear that he wanted to play for a team in the NL West. His options were down to the Giants, Padres and Dodgers.
Once Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo called him and told him there was a deal in place to send him to Los Angeles, Scherzer was sold. Scherzer has appeared in two World Series, winning one in 2019 with the Nats and losing the other with the Tigers in ‘12. He saw the opportunity the Dodgers had. He wanted to be a part of it.
“It’s what you play the game for,” Scherzer said. “You don’t dream of being a loser, you dream of being a winner. When you’ve had the opportunity to win a World Series, you just realize how awesome it is, and the celebration that goes on afterwards. There’s a huge difference between first and second. I’ve gotten to experience both firsthand, winning it and losing it. Winning is a whole lot better.”
The Dodgers’ path in the postseason begins Wednesday with Scherzer on the mound. It’s exactly why Los Angeles pulled the blockbuster trade back in July. Whether the Dodgers win will ultimately be decided on the field. But one thing is certain: Scherzer will be angry, and he’ll be ready to complete. Just like he always is.
“He’s going to be a psychopath either way,” Turner said. “He’s a little different on his start day. He’s really nice and easy going. You guys just see him angry.”