WASHINGTON -- The crowd at Nationals Park hung on every pitch as they sensed it was near, clapping and chanting along, "Let's go, Max! Let's go, Max!" On the mound, Max Scherzer was as focused as ever on pitching himself into the record books once again. He was locked in
WASHINGTON -- The crowd at Nationals Park hung on every pitch as they sensed it was near, clapping and chanting along, "Let's go, Max! Let's go, Max!" On the mound, Max Scherzer was as focused as ever on pitching himself into the record books once again. He was locked in a 10-pitch battle with Marlins outfielder Austin Dean as he channeled the energy from the crowd and the moment to fire fastballs in the upper 90s.
After Dean fouled off four straight pitches in the seventh inning of the Nationals' 9-4 victory over the Marlins, Scherzer threw one of his nastiest sliders of the night to record his 300th strikeout in the season. Scherzer became just the sixth pitcher since 1990 to record 300 strikeouts in a single season, joining Curt Schilling, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Clayton Kershaw and Chris Sale.
After reaching the 300-strikeout plateau, Scherzer was showered with a standing ovation not only by the crowd of 26,483 fans in attendance, but by the entire Nats dugout and bullpen. He received a bottle of champagne, which he was still carrying around after the game and drinking straight from the bottle to celebrate his latest achievement.
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"Yeah, it was on my mind," Scherzer said. "With enough guys talking about it, understanding what the milestone is, and I definitely wanted to do it here at home. The fans [are an] unbelievable support. When they are standing on their feet, going crazy, it just gives you an extra adrenaline boost, and you just want to go out there and accomplish that. It was an amazing feeling to have the fans behind you and the respect that they gave."
Even as strikeouts have spiked league-wide in recent seasons, the starters who have reached the 300-strikeout mark remain part of an exclusive club. Only Kershaw and Sale have done so in the past 15 seasons, and Schilling was the most recent right-hander to cross the threshold before Scherzer, whiffing 316 batters in 2002.
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"I wouldn't say it was a goal. It was just something as I solidified myself in the big leagues and showed I was able to get to those marks, it was something I dreamed of, reaching this mark," Scherzer said. "Because I know how hard it is to consistently go out there and strike guys out."
This latest accomplishment adds to Scherzer's already Hall of Fame-caliber resume and improves his bid to win the National League Cy Young Award this year.
Anthony Rendon hit a three-run homer in the first inning and collected four RBIs to help Scherzer notch his NL-best 18th win on the season. Scherzer also improved his Major League-leading strikeout total, which is also a career high and team record, and perhaps made his best argument to be named the NL Cy Young Award winner for a third consecutive season.
Beyond his 300 strikeouts in 220 2/3 innings, Scherzer has built a strong case for more hardware with his 18-7 record, 2.53 ERA and 5.88 strikeouts per walk. With just half as many hits allowed as strikeouts, Scherzer has posted an NL-best WHIP of 0.9109.
With the milestone in reach during his past few starts, catcher Matt Wieters acknowledged some tweaks in their game plan designed to rack up Scherzer's strikeouts. He started the night needing 10 strikeouts to reach 300 -- far from a sure thing at the start of the night for most pitchers -- but once Scherzer started on the mound, it became clear early that Tuesday night would be the night.
Asked whether he considered removing Scherzer from the game before he reached 300 strikeouts, Nats manager Dave Martinez said with a laugh, "I value my life."
"He was going to get 10 today, somehow," Martinez said. "What an unbelievable accomplishment for him. I'm just happy I got to experience it. I can't say enough about Max. He's a winner and a true champion."
Once Scherzer reached 300 strikeouts in the seventh, the Nats provided ample breathing room with a six-run bottom of the inning, and Scherzer's night was complete. He gave up one run on five hits in seven innings with 10 strikeouts, his 18th game with double-digit strikeouts on the year over 33 total starts.
Scherzer was scheduled to receive one more start on the final day of the regular season in Colorado, but now that he has reached this milestone, the Nats were going to leave the decision to him if he wanted to continue. That will be a conversation for another day, however, as Scherzer and the Nats took the time to enjoy one of their consistent bright spots this season.
"It's cool," Wieters said. "This is obviously a team sport first … but it's still cool to look back at all the personal goals and all the things guys reach -- Max's 300 strikeouts, [Bryce Harper's] 100 RBIs, [Trea Turner's] steals, every accomplishment [Ryan Zimmerman] has broken this year -- it's neat when you look back on it. This game's been around for a long time, and you're seeing records go down. It's always something you can look back on, and it's neat to be a part of history."
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Scherzer ended the night with 300 strikeouts and 150 hits allowed this year, which would be the fewest hits ever allowed by a pitcher in a 300-strikeout season, besting Pedro Martinez's 1997 campaign when he gave up 158 hits, according to STATS.
With his three-run homer in the first inning, Rendon extended his career-best on-base streak to 33 games.
Harper scored his 100th run on the season to go along with 129 walks and 100 RBIs on the year, making him the seventh player since 2014 to reach triple digits in each category. Cleveland's Jose Ramirez also accomplished the feat this season.
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HE SAID IT
"It takes time to fully appreciate any milestone or accomplishment. So I'll best be able to answer that question maybe next year, of understanding that it is a short list, but it doesn't necessarily define you as a pitcher. There's more to pitching than just striking guys out, but also it is a big reason why you can have success. That's why it's a cool milestone, but there are more reasons to having success on the mound than just striking guys out." -- Scherzer, on ranking 300 strikeouts with his other accomplishments.
Bryce Harper could be playing his final home game at Nationals Park during Wednesday's home finale against the Marlins at 4:05 ET. Harper has spent his entire seven-year career in D.C., but he is set to become a free agent this winter and his future is uncertain. Kyle McGowin will start on the mound for Washington in place of Tanner Roark, who left the team to be home with his family in Atlanta. The Marlins will counter with Wei-Yin Chen.
Jamal Collier covers the Nationals for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.