PHILADELPHIA -- Max Scherzer had recorded 19 strikeouts in his last two starts, but he had two losses to show for them after the Nationals only produced a single run in those games.
In Friday’s series opener against the Phillies, he got enough offensive support to earn the ‘W’ in the Nats’ 2-1 win at Citizens Bank Park. The right-hander dominated with nine strikeouts and just one run off five hits and a walk. He threw 108 pitches (70 strikes) and hit one batter to edge Zack Wheeler in a pitchers’ duel.
“You know going against Zack, it’s going to be a tough matchup and runs are going to be at a premium,” Scherzer said. “It was good to be able to scratch that second run across and get the lead. It just felt like, ‘Hey, finally got a lead here going deeper into the game. Let’s do everything to protect it.’”
It turns out, Juan Soto’s two home runs in the four-game series in Atlanta were a preview of what was to come in Philadelphia.
Feeling a bolstered sense of confidence from Truist Park, the left fielder belted his third homer of the month a Statcast-projected 397 feet at 108.2 mph. With it, Soto added to his already-lengthy list of home runs against the NL East rival. He tops all players in homers vs. the Phillies since the start of the 2018 season with 15 in 45 games, ahead of Michael Conforto (12 in 54 games) and Ronald Acuña Jr. (10 in 48 games).
It was Soto’s seventh opposite-field home run since the start of the 2020 season, tying him with Jesse Winker for second-most among left-handed batters behind only teammate Kyle Schwarber.
“It feels great,” Soto said of providing run support with the go-ahead homer in the sixth. “It’s just amazing what [Scherzer’s] been doing and how he pitches every moment. Every time he goes out there, he gives it 100 percent. It’s just great to get some runs for him.”
After Scherzer and Soto helped set the game up for a victory, catcher Alex Avila shut the door on the Phillies’ late-game comeback attempt. Reliever Daniel Hudson, who replaced Scherzer, gave up a deep double to Rhys Hoskins leading off the bottom of the ninth. But when pinch-runner Travis Jankowski took a significant secondary lead at second after he expected Hudson’s pitch in the dirt to ricochet (“Just a bad read,” Jankowski said), he got caught in no-man's land and Avila ran from home plate toward second to tag him out. The official ruling: two unassisted with tag.
The veteran Avila, who started in place of Yan Gomes (right hamstring tightness), chalked it up to a “fundamental” play he used to practice in high school and college. His teammates saw it as more than that.
Scherzer, at that point, was watching the game on the broadcast, which had a 15-second delay. He heard the dugout erupt in cheers as Avila executed a play he had never witnessed before.
“That was just a huge play to be able to see that happen,” Scherzer said. “They’re really threatening right there with the heart of their order, and to be able to flip that into one pitch later, two outs, nobody on, that just changes the whole complex of the game and really puts us in the driver’s seat.”
The Nationals not only got Scherzer the victory, but the ‘W’ also made Dave Martinez the winningest manager in Nationals team history with No. 225.