WASHINGTON -- These are the games Max Scherzer gets extra excited for, a chance to measure himself against the Red Sox, who own one of baseball's best records. He started Monday's game pumping fastballs in the upper 90s in the first inning. He screamed at himself when he made an errant pitch.
The Nationals added three solo home runs to back Scherzer, including a moonshot from Bryce Harper in the eighth inning, as the Nats played with what their manager called phenomenal intensity and energy. Yet once again Scherzer and the Nationals were dealt with a tough loss, thanks to one mistake from Scherzer that resulted in a three-run double to opposing pitcher Rick Porcello in Monday's 4-3 loss to the Red Sox.
These tough-luck losses have become the norm lately for Scherzer and the Nationals -- losers for the 16th time in their past 22 games and tied with the Mets for the worst record in the National League during that span. Washington even outhit Boston nine to seven, but once again failed to capitalize on its scoring opportunities. And now the Nats have dropped to a season-high seven games back in the NL East behind the Braves.
"This is where the test is," Scherzer said. "That even when things aren't going your way, when things are bleak, when we haven't been playing great baseball, you have to find a way to take and find certain things you are doing well and just try to build off those. That's just what the whole team has to do.
"Look, we're not playing our best baseball right now. It's obvious. But at the end of the day, you do have to take solace in how you're going out there and doing the things well. ... As much as we can reflect upon kind of our failures, we can also reflect upon some of the things that we are doing well and hopefully that will turn."
Scherzer has been the victim of the Nats' struggles offensively, the loser of three of his previous four starts despite pitching at a Cy Young-caliber level because the Nats were shut out in each of his three losses. Boston made Scherzer work all night, and he admitted he was gassed after the third inning. But he battled to throw 108 pitches in six innings with nine strikeouts and became the 11th pitcher in MLB history to record at least 1,000 strikeouts with two clubs.
Washington also got solo home runs from Anthony Rendon, as he continued his hot streak, and Daniel Murphy, his first homer since returning from the disabled list, but Porcello limited the damage to those two runs in six innings with five strikeouts. Mookie Betts launched a solo home run off Brandon Kintzler in the seventh to provide some extra breathing room for the Red Sox, necessary after Harper's home run cut the lead to one.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Scherzer's lone blemish came in the second inning, after the Nats elected to intentionally walk Jackie Bradley Jr. in front of Porcello to load the bases. And Scherzer's former Tigers teammate made him pay with his first career extra-base hit.
"That's where you've got to be better, no matter what," Scherzer said. "You've got to execute pitches against everybody. Just because it's a pitcher doesn't mean you can ever let up. Not saying I did, but the onus, the focus is on every single pitch. You've got to execute."
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Harper has continued to show signs of breaking out of his slump lately and his homer onto the concourse in the second deck was the best indication. The ball came off his bat at 112.1 mph, tied for his second-hardest-hit home run of the season. It traveled 439 feet for his third-longest homer and came off a 97.6 mph fastball from Joe Kelly, making it the third-fastest pitch he has hit for a home run in his career (including postseason).
HE SAID IT
"The boys were intense. They played really well -- two bad pitches, basically. So I'm proud of them. So I have nothing to complain about, nothing to say. The results weren't what we wanted, but the attitude, the intensity, the energy was phenomenal today." -- manager Dave Martinez, on the Nats' effort
"No, no. Just keep grinding. It's a long season. Roller coaster -- don't get too high in our highs or too low in our lows. Just keep taking punches and keep going back out." -- Rendon, on this recent stretch
"A loss is a loss. They all feel the same to me. I mean, we lose the game, you're a loser. Win the game, you're a winner." -- Harper, on another one-run loss
Tanner Roark will start Game 2 of this three-game set against the Red Sox on Tuesday night. He will be happy to turn the page from the month of June, when he posted a 6.08 ERA in six games (five starts), although he finished the month strong with six innings of two-run ball. Left-hander Christopher Johnson will be the opposing pitcher for Boston; first pitch is at 6:05 p.m. ET.