Max Scherzer reminded us Wednesday night just how much pain an athlete can endure while still somehow putting together a brilliant performance. The right-hander tossed seven scoreless innings against the Phillies at Nationals Park with a broken nose and black eye, striking out 10 and prompting us to look back at some of the greatest performances by sick or injured players in MLB history.
Max Scherzer, June 19, 2019 vs. Phillies
Scherzer suffered a broken nose as a result of a batting practice mishap in which he bunted a ball off his face prior to Tuesday’s scheduled game against the Phillies. But that didn’t stop him from taking the mound in the second game of Wednesday’s doubleheader and dominating Philadelphia hitters for seven scoreless innings in the Nationals’ 2-0 victory. With a four-seam fastball averaging 96.2 mph, Scherzer struck out 10 in a memorable and gutsy performance.
Shohei Ohtani, Sept. 5, 2018 vs. Rangers
On the very same day as he was told he’d need Tommy John surgery, two-way star Shohei Ohtani went out and delivered an incredible performance with his bat, homering twice in a four-hit game against the Rangers. Following the season, he had the operation on the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow, sidelining him until May of this year. But not before he added another amazing moment to his American League Rookie of the Year campaign.
Stephen Strasburg, 2017 NLDS Game 4
Strasburg was very ill with flu-like symptoms on the day before he was scheduled to start what became a must-win Game 4 of the 2017 National League Championship Series against the Cubs at Wrigley Field. But though he was not yet recovered, he took the mound for the Nationals and turned in a brilliant effort to help Washington force a Game 5, giving up just three hits while striking out 12 over seven scoreless innings.
Pablo Sandoval, 2014 World Series Game 4
Nearly two years to the day that he won the 2012 World Series MVP Award, Pablo Sandoval had come down with a heavy cold and was unable to participate in his regular pregame activities heading into Game 4 of the 2014 World Series against the Royals.
As it turned out, Sandoval delivered a pair of critical hits, including a go-ahead, two-run single in the sixth inning that proved to be the difference as San Francisco tied the Series, eventually winning it in seven games for a third title in five years.
Jamie Moyer, 2008 World Series Game 3
Moyer’s Phillies were even after two games against Tampa Bay when the 45-year-old’s turn came up. Unfortunately for the lefty, his long-awaited Fall Classic debut coincided with a severe stomach virus that left him in bad shape the night before his Game 3 start. His wife, Karen, told reporter Ken Rosenthal that Moyer was “the sickest I’ve ever seen him in 22 years.”
Yet Moyer never considered not pitching. Instead, he gave Philly a 6 1/3-inning quality start, leaving with the lead. While the bullpen gave that up, Moyer’s club went on to win the game and the series.
Mark Teixeira, Aug. 20, 2007
Teixeira was ailing from a 24-hour stomach virus, but was in the starting lineup for the Braves against the Reds at Great American Ball Park. And for the second consecutive game, he launched two home runs in a 14-4 Atlanta victory.
Curt Schilling, 2004 ALCS Game 6
The greatest postseason series comeback in baseball history would not have happened if not for Schilling and his bloody sock in Game 6 of the 2004 AL Championship Series against the Yankees. With the Red Sox trying to make it three straight over New York after being down 3-0 in the series, Schilling took the mound at Yankee Stadium with a torn tendon sheath sutured to the skin of his right ankle.
The veteran right-hander had to push off that ankle to deliver a pitch 99 times in that must-win contest, and surrendered only one run on four hits over seven innings to help Boston force a Game 7, which it would win to advance to the World Series. The Red Sox swept the Cardinals for their first championship in 86 years.
Pedro Martinez, 1999 ALDS Game 5
Pedro was at the absolute peak of his powers in 1999, when he had one of the greatest pitching seasons in baseball history. Unfortunately for the Red Sox, though, his start in Game 1 of the ALDS against the Indians lasted just four innings due to a strained back muscle. By the time the winner-take-all Game 5 rolled around, Martinez had not reappeared in the series, and once again, he didn’t start.
But with the game tied 8-8 heading to the bottom of the fourth, he emerged from the bullpen. "I put my career jeopardy” Martinez would say years later. The gamble paid off, as he tossed six hitless innings against a stacked Cleveland lineup to help lift Boston into the ALCS.
Kevin Brown, 1997 NLCS Game 6
After winning Game 1 of the NLCS at Atlanta, Brown came down with the flu, fighting it as the teams split the next four games. As the series headed back to Atlanta for Game 6, Brown boarded a flight “looking gaunt and tired,” according to a New York Times report. That didn’t prevent the right-hander from gutting out 140 pitches in a complete-game victory, outpitching Hall of Famer Tom Glavine as the Marlins clinched the pennant.
Kirk Gibson, 1988 World Series Game 1
It’s simply one of the most iconic moments in sports history. The 1988 NL MVP for the Dodgers hurt both knees in that year’s NLCS against the Mets, leaving Game 7 in the fourth inning. The World Series against the favored A’s began just three days later, and Gibson was not physically able to start. Instead, he remained in the Dodgers’ clubhouse, icing his ailing legs.
But with Los Angeles trailing by a run in the bottom of the ninth inning, one runner on base and two outs, Gibson hobbled to the plate against star closer Dennis Eckersley. A 3-2 slider tailed back over the plate, and Gibson somehow launched it into Dodger Stadium’s right field bleachers for a walk-off home run. Gibson slowly rounded the bases, pumping his arm in celebration.
“In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened,” said Vin Scully.
Manny Randhawa is a reporter for MLB.com based in Denver. Follow him on Twitter at @MannyOnMLB.
Andrew Simon is a research analyst for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB.