WASHINGTON -- With each strikeout in the opening innings and with every Cubs hitter that returned to the dugout empty, the crowd of 37,187 fans at Nationals Park seemed to grow louder with the anticipation of seeing history.
It's a testament to Max Scherzer's dominance in his short time with the Nationals that it's as if everyone were expecting Scherzer to pull off something historic.
Scherzer struck out nine of the first 10 batters he faced, and carried a perfect game into the sixth inning during Monday night's 4-1 win over the Cubs. Although he did not replicate any of the historic performances, he still turned in a dominant outing. He allowed one run on two hits in seven innings with 11 strikeouts and no walks.
"I just felt good today. Ball felt good. It was a nice warm day, perfect pitching conditions," Scherzer said. "The arm felt live and was able to use my fastball all day because of that. I was able to really locate on both sides of the plate and when I'm able to do that that's when I have a lot of success."
Scherzer began the game throwing his fastball as hard as 97 mph, velocity he usually reserves for the end of the game. He fanned nine batters through the first four innings, matching his pace from his 20-strikeout game on May 11 against the Tigers. Even when that pace slowed down in the fifth, he had still not allowed a baserunner, so perhaps he would throw his third no-hitter in the past two seasons.
If the crowd was starting to wonder if they were witnessing something special, they were not alone.
"Yeah, if he's done it once, he can do it again," Nationals manager Dusty Baker said. "You allow yourself to think it. You don't talk about it, but you think it."
"Right from the get-go, once he struck out those three hitters in the first inning, I knew that he was locked in," catcher Wilson Ramos said. "He was hitting his spots real well from the get-go, and when he's on the mound doing that it's something special out there."
"I always say if you get through six innings, you got a shot," Scherzer said.
But the perfect game ended in the sixth, after Addison Russell ended a nine-pitch at-bat with a solo home run into the stands in left field. It was Scherzer's lone blemish on an otherwise stellar day. He recorded his fourth double-digit strikeout game of the season -- and the 40th of his career -- and continued a strong month of June. In three starts this month, Scherzer has posted a 1.23 ERA, 0.68 WHIP, and 28 strikeouts with just three walks.
His outing Monday night was a complete turnaround after his last start against the Cubs, which Scherzer recalled the as the day they "beat his brains in." He allowed seven runs and gave up four home runs, which matched a career-high, on a windy day at Wrigley Field on May 6.
"I think he made a pretty good adjustment. In Wrigley, he gave up a lot of hard hits, trying to get ahead with the fastball," Cubs catcher Miguel Montero said. "The guys kind of ambushed him a little bit. Today, that wasn't the case. He pitched a little bit backwards today. He was able to throw his breaking ball for a strike."