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Scherzer weathers turbulence in Nats' G1 win

@juanctoribio
October 23, 2019

HOUSTON -- It’s no secret that the Nationals intend to rely on their starting pitching in order to get past the Astros in the 2019 World Series. It wasn’t always pretty, but Max Scherzer did just enough to come out on top in the highly anticipated pitching battle against Gerrit

HOUSTON -- It’s no secret that the Nationals intend to rely on their starting pitching in order to get past the Astros in the 2019 World Series.

It wasn’t always pretty, but Max Scherzer did just enough to come out on top in the highly anticipated pitching battle against Gerrit Cole in the Nationals’ 5-4 win over the Astros in Game 1 of the World Series on Tuesday at Minute Maid Park.

Game Date Result Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 22 WSH 5, HOU 4 Watch
Gm 2 Oct. 23 WSH 12, HOU 3 Watch
Gm 3 Oct. 25 HOU 4, WSH 1 Watch
Gm 4 Oct. 26 HOU 8, WSH 1 Watch
Gm 5 Oct. 27 HOU 7, WSH 1 Watch
Gm 6 Oct. 29 WSH 7, HOU 2 Watch
Gm 7 Oct. 30 WSH 6, HOU 2 Watch

“Max, kudos to him. He gave us everything he had today,” said Nats manager Dave Martinez. “Those guys are good. They don’t chase. And they’re good hitters. He gave us everything he had.”

In a game against Cole -- who entered Tuesday’s game without a loss since May 22 -- it becomes much more crucial that your starting pitching limits the Astros' lineup, and Scherzer was able to do just that to give his team a fighting chance in the opener.

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Scherzer got off to a rough start, allowing a two-run double to Yuli Gurriel in the first inning to give Houston a 2-0 lead. But as the three-time Cy Young Award winner has done throughout his career, he was able to limit the damage and fight through his outing, limiting a potent Astros lineup to those two runs over five innings, striking out seven and walking three.

The right-hander became just the second starting pitcher in the last 30 years to allow multiple runs in the first inning of a World Series game and still earn the win.

DYK? Facts, figures about World Series Game 1

“That lineup is great,” Scherzer said. “Never let me get in a rhythm. I had to make pitches from the stretch from the first inning on. For me, I just stayed with [Kurt Suzuki]. He called some big time pitches for me, blocked some big time pitches for me, too, especially with runners on third base.”

While Scherzer, who completed seven innings in his last two postseason starts, would’ve liked to pitch a few more frames, the fact that he got through five innings helped the Nationals set up their bullpen for the rest of the night. Martinez turned the ball over to Patrick Corbin in the sixth inning, which became the plan as Scherzer’s pitch count got higher.

In the early innings, it was unclear if Scherzer was going to be able to give the Nats much length on Tuesday. The righty needed 48 pitches to get through two frames, and it was only the second time in his 373 career starts (including postseason outings) that he issued a leadoff walk in each of the first two innings of a game. The other came on May 27, 2016, against the Cardinals.

Scherzer credited Houston's lineup for keeping him from getting into a groove throughout the night. He also said that because of the two early runs, he was pitching with a little extra care to keep his team in the ballgame.

Scherzer recorded just 16 swinging strikes on Tuesday, including just six on his four-seam fastball (which he threw 52 times). He threw 11 pitches with full counts, two shy of his career high.

“We were exactly where we wanted to be,” said Astros catcher Martín Maldonado. “I felt like we had the right plan of getting up Scherzer’s pitch count. We were happy where we were at.”

Things continued to go according to plan for Houston as a 28-pitch fourth inning spiked Scherzer’s pitch count to 96, the fourth most he has thrown through four innings in any game in his career. The inning, however, ended with Scherzer getting José Altuve to ground out to first base, stranding two runners in scoring position and helping Washington keep the game tied.

“There were a lot of chances where they had runners on second and third or runners in scoring position and I just trusted Suzuki,” Scherzer said. “I knew going into it that this was going to be an absolute battle. Their lineup is great and they present so many different challenges. Like I said, they grinded me apart. Pitch count was out of control, and that’s a credit to what they were able to do and consistently put pressure on me.”

Despite needing 112 pitches to get through five innings, Scherzer was able to give the Nationals what they needed. He got through the heart of the Astros' order three times and handed the ball over to the bullpen with a three-run lead.

That allowed Martinez to use Corbin for an inning and no longer, which could’ve affected the team’s pitching plans for later in the series. More importantly, Scherzer helped the Nats secure the team’s first World Series win in franchise history.

“He’s endured a lot this year,” Martinez said. “For him to keep us in that ballgame was huge. And going out there and finishing that fifth inning was huge.”

Juan Toribio covers the Rays for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @juanctoribio.