SAN FRANCISCO -- The thought of a complete game did not enter Max Scherzer's mind until he was through seven innings on Wednesday night. With a low pitch count and plenty of stamina remaining in his powerful right arm, Scherzer began stalking around the mound, ramping up his already high intensity and laser focus.
"When he starts smelling the end of the game," catcher Matt Wieters said, "he's better than anyone."
Scherzer needed exactly 100 pitches to finish off the Giants and his first complete game of the season, leading the Nationals' 3-1 victory at AT&T Park that completed a three-game sweep. He was as dominant as he was efficient, striking out 11 without issuing a walk, giving up just five hits and only surrendering a run thanks to a two-out popup that got lost in the lights.
The Giants' hitters came out aggressive, seemingly looking for fastballs early in the count. Scherzer took advantage of that, mixing in offspeed pitches early in the counts and forcing the overzealous Giants into quick outs without getting into many jams.
"When you get early contact, get early outs, then you can grind out some ABs," Scherzer said. "Really try to pitch, not necessarily for the strikeout, but try to make your stuff nasty."
Scherzer likely would have had a shutout, had center fielder Michael Taylor or left fielder Jayson Werth been able to reel in a two-out pop fly from Buster Posey in the fourth inning. The routine fly ball to left-center had a 1 percent hit probability, according to Statcast™, while Werth and Taylor had 99 and 98 percent catch probabilities, respectively, but both players lost the ball in the lights and it fell between them for an RBI double, scoring Eduardo Nunez, who had just singled for the Giants' first hit.
Still, this was Scherzer's latest masterpiece. It was his first complete game since May 11, 2016, when he matched a Major League record with 20 strikeouts against the Tigers. The 100 pitches were the fewest he's thrown in a nine-inning complete game in his career, the previous low was 105.
Scherzer just barely missed a complete game in his last start against the Padres, when he had to be pulled with two outs in the ninth inning and 13 strikeouts. Although he finished off this game, Scherzer acknowledged complete games are not too important to him, considering he feels comfortable handing the ball to right-hander Koda Glover, who has excelled since taking over as the team's closer.
However, Glover had thrown four out of five games and was unavailable Wednesday night, making Scherzer's stellar effort even more crucial for the Nationals, who have won eight of their last 10 games.
"The way he can feel it, the way he can close out a game," Nationals manager Dusty Baker said, "that's the key."