Scherzer displays true greatness in one-hitter
MILWAUKEE -- In the end, there was no perfect game and there was no no-hitter, either. But there still was greatness.
Max Scherzer finished with a one-hitter Sunday as the Washington Nationals defeated the Milwaukee Brewers, 4-0. But somehow, "one-hitter" seems to understate the case. This was a display of pitching dominance.
Scherzer retired the first 18 batters he faced. It doesn't get any better over six innings. And then, one bloop hit aside, it was hard to be any more dominant over nine innings.
Scherzer struck out 11 of those first 18 batters. There was one outfield out recorded and that was just behind short. No difficult defensive plays were required. Scherzer needed only 67 pitches to get through six innings and 51 of those were strikes. He had only two two-ball counts in the first six innings.
"He was in command from pitch one," said Nationals manager Matt Williams. "Very few deep counts. He was throwing the ball exactly where he wanted to throw it. He pitched really, really well."
Scherzer, of course, is typically very good. But this performance was on an even higher level. He pinpointed the fastball on both sides of the plate. His slider was devastatingly effective.
"I thought I was able to get my slider going against the right-handed hitters," Scherzer said. "I was able to execute in-zone and out of the zone and Lobie (catcher Jose Lobaton), was calling a great game for me. He did a great job of knowing when to sequence it. A lot of times I was just going with him and it was working.
"When I needed a changeup, I had a changeup for the lefties, and I was able to drop in a curveballs when I needed to. I was able to execute every pitch for the most part when I wanted to. When you've got a good catcher who can sequence it, and we make some good plays out there, and get some timely hits, it's a recipe for how to win ball games."
This performance was so good, that it seemed unjust in a way when the perfect game was ended by a broken-bat bloop. Leading off the seventh, Carlos Gomez, jammed on a good fastball, flared the ball to shallow right, just beyond the reach of second baseman Anthony Rendon.
"Once you get to the seventh (with a perfect game) you know you've got one more time through the lineup," Scherzer said. "I put some hair on it. I was not letting up on that fastball. It takes some luck to throw a no-hitter, perfect game and this proves that."
After the perfect game/no-hitter was spoiled, Scherzer did not give in to disappointment or dismay. Quite the opposite. He struck out five more batters over the final three innings, and only allowed one other baserunner on an eighth-inning walk to Scooter Gennett.
"Why would I be disappointed on a broken-bat base hit?" Scherzer said. "I wasn't (disappointed), so you move on."
Scherzer finished with 16 strikeouts, one better than his previous best and two better than the Nationals previous franchise record, which had been held by Stephen Strasburg. This was the second complete game shutout of Scherzer's Major League career, the first one having come in 2014 for the Tigers. He finished with 119 pitches, which was a season high.
Before the game, Brewers manager Craig Counsell was asked what separated Scherzer from the vast majority of Major League pitchers. His comment proved to be prophetic.
"I think the great pitchers have this gear," Counsell said. "They have a cruise control gear and then they have a gear they go to when it counts or it matters. And the cruise control gear is really good and the gear they go to when it matters is really good.
"You can see that (Cincinnati's) Johnny Cueto does it. Scherzer does it. That's what the great ones are able to do. They're able to pitch at this effort level that's kind of the mid-game effort level. And when the situation calls for it, and they know when it calls for it, they kind of elevate their game.
"That's your challenge is to be ready for that. When a guy's throwing 92 or 93, and then we get to a big spot and he's got 97, it's not easy for a hitter. And I think you'll see that today."
And we did see that. Scherzer operated at 93-94 mph on the fastball most of the time and then took it up to 96-97 mph later in the game.
This game did not gain the designation of perfect game or no-hitter. But Max Scherzer needed only better luck to get at least the no-hitter. Anybody who saw his performance Sunday knew that we were in the presence of real pitching greatness. For a pitcher, getting to that level is its own reward.