WASHINGTON -- These moments are the reason why the Nationals signed Max Scherzer when he was a free agent during the 2015 offseason, to take the mound Thursday night at Nationals Park in a decisive Game 5 of the National League Division Series.
Scherzer held the Dodgers hitless through the first four innings, and blanked the Dodgers' offense through six, striking out seven and nearly willing the Nationals into the NL Championship Series himself. Then he began the seventh inning, and surrendered a solo homer to Joc Pederson on his 99th and final pitch of the evening. It ignited a four-run seventh-inning rally for the Dodgers that led to their series-clinching 4-3 win.
"I gave as good an effort as I've ever given in my life to put everything I've got on every single pitch," a somber Scherzer said after the game, holding back the tears in his eyes. "And the pitch I got beat on, I hit my spot. He put a better swing on it. I executed my pitch. He just made a great swing on it."
:: NLDS: Dodgers vs. Nationals coverage ::
Before the game, Nationals manager Dusty Baker considered whether he approached an elimination game differently, and the challenge it would present if Scherzer worked himself into trouble. Baker has seen Scherzer work his way out of trouble and deliver so many dominant efforts during this season that has made him a favorite to win the NL Cy Young Award.
So Baker did not consider taking Scherzer out of the game before the seventh, even though Scherzer had completed six stressful innings and was approaching 100 pitches, and Baker had three left-handers in his bullpen to counteract the array of Dodgers left-handed hitters in their lineup.
"You know, a couple years ago when they took [Jordan Zimmermann] out of the game, and everybody was crying about that, why they took him out of that game," Baker said referring to when Zimmermann was removed from a strong pitching performance in Game 2 of the NLDS in 2014.
"And if I had taken [Scherzer] out -- I mean, Max said he was still good. We were hoping to get another inning out of him. No, it's easy to say after the fact. If somebody had told me and Max that the guy was going to hit an opposite-field home run, we'd have taken him out then. But how do you take out your -- a guy in a 1-0 game. And Max is capable of going 100-some-odd pitches."
However, Scherzer also has battled issues with home runs, having tied for the most homers allowed in the NL this season. Pederson had hit only one homer to left field all season, before he drove a fastball on the outer half of the plate into the seats to end Scherzer's night.
"I think it's one of those things that Max was lights-out, he really was, for six innings, and we really couldn't get anything going," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. "He got out of some traffic earlier, but after that homer to tie the game, it just gave us a chance to exhale a little bit."