LOS ANGELES -- Rarely does a matchup in April draw this much anticipation, but then again, rarely do two of the best pitchers of their generation face off. On a clear and crisp night at a packed Dodger Stadium, 50,211 witnessed just the 10th showdown between three-time Cy Young Award
LOS ANGELES -- Rarely does a matchup in April draw this much anticipation, but then again, rarely do two of the best pitchers of their generation face off. On a clear and crisp night at a packed Dodger Stadium, 50,211 witnessed just the 10th showdown between three-time Cy Young Award winners -- Max Scherzer of the Nationals and Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers.
Their head-to-head meetings have been limited. They squared off in Game 1 of the 2016 National League Division Series, but their last regular-season meeting was in 2008, when neither pitcher owned a Cy Young Award. In a rare showdown between the two on Friday night, Scherzer got the best of Kershaw, spinning six innings of one-run ball with nine strikeouts to lead Washington to a 5-2 victory. Meanwhile, the Nats' offense pestered Kershaw for four runs on nine hits in seven innings.
"I've always said you don't measure yourself against the worst," Scherzer said. "You measure yourself against the best. I've always thought that."
It's the first time the Nationals have beaten Kershaw since 2010, and they did so because of their aggressive game plan to swing early in the count. Three pitches into the game, they put themselves on the board.
Trea Turner doubled on Kershaw's first pitch. Howie Kendrick flied out to center field on the next pitch, advancing Turner to third. Then, with the infield drawn in, Bryce Harper roped a single into right field on the third pitch for his 19th RBI of the season. After a wild pitch put Harper on second, Ryan Zimmerman doubled him home to give the Nationals a 2-0 lead they wouldn't relinquish.
"There's really no choice," Zimmerman said of the Nats' aggressiveness against Kershaw. "He's going to come right at you. You're not going to get his pitch count up. He doesn't walk a ton of people. Might as well be ready to try to hit the first pitch you can."
The Nationals -- still missing three of their best hitters -- would continue to hound Kershaw. They rallied in the fifth inning to set up a third run after a double and bloop single set the stage for a safety squeeze from Turner. In the sixth, they collected three singles, the last of which Michael A. Taylor punched into center field to extend the lead to 4-0.
"Usually you can come back from two [runs down], but it's tough against Max," Kershaw said. "I can get through seven [innings] and two [runs], but I had those two tack-ons late that you can't have. We had opportunities, Max limited the damage."
The Dodgers did not make it easy on Scherzer. Aside from his 1-2-3 second inning, they put runners on in each inning, starting with Chris Taylor's leadoff triple in the first. The Dodgers drew three walks and scattered four hits, but aside from a run-scoring hit from Yasiel Puig in the sixth, Scherzer limited the damage and wove his way out of trouble all night.
With the capacity crowd and a marquee pitching matchup, Nationals left-hander Sammy Solis compared this game to a playoff atmosphere.
"You want to treat every game the same, but a packed house, Friday night at Dodger Stadium, it's always exciting," Solis said. "The heart starts pumping a little more than it usually does."
HE SAID IT
"His fastball is dominant. His fastball is the separator for him. The life and carry he has on that ball, it's really hard for me to hit, it's just a really good fastball." -- Kershaw, on Scherzer
"He attacks the zone, doesn't walk guys. He brings it every single time. That's just the on-surface stuff that you know is going on between his ears. He goes out there and competes as well as anybody and attacks the zone." -- Scherzer, on Kershaw
The Nationals will send their second ace to the mound when Stephen Strasburg takes on the Dodgers on Saturday night at 9:10 p.m. ET. Strasburg has 26 strikeouts in 26 1/3 innings to start the season. Hyun-Jin Ryu will be the opposing pitcher for Los Angeles.
Jamal Collier has covered the Nationals for MLB.com since 2016. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.