The Rangers got Max Scherzer for moments like this. Can he deliver?

October 23rd, 2023

This story was excerpted from Kennedi Landry’s Rangers Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

HOUSTON -- Thinking back to the Trade Deadline, general manager Chris Young couldn’t say specifically that this is what he envisioned when the Rangers acquired three-time Cy Young Award winner  from the Mets.

Scherzer will start Game 7 of the American League Championship Series on Monday against the Astros. Back in the days leading up to Aug. 1, Young was just thinking about getting his club to the finish line of the regular season and into the postseason at all.

“I was just focused on having a deep enough staff to get us here,” Young said. “We were focused on getting here and we thought Max was one of the players that we needed to help get here. We know his pedigree, he’s a World Series champion, he’s pitched in these moments, and of course we wanted him for these moments, but that was sort of an afterthought. We also targeted him to help get us here.”

Scherzer posted a 3.20 ERA across eight starts after joining the Rangers at the Trade Deadline, but landed on the injured list on Sept. 12 with a right teres major strain in his shoulder. He returned to the mound to make his postseason debut for Texas in the ALCS Game 3 loss to the Astros at Globe Life Field last week.

At 39 years old and coming off an injury, he is not the Scherzer we’re used to seeing. But his reputation still precedes him. He is 7-8 with a 3.80 ERA in 137 1/3 postseason innings in his career, including winning the World Series with the Nationals in 2019.

This will be Scherzer’s fifth start in a postseason winner-take-all game, tying Roger Clemens and Gerrit Cole for most all-time. Of those starts, Scherzer’s team has won three of them, tied for most, with Clemens, Charlie Morton and Bret Saberhagen. 

He will also be the fifth pitcher to start a winner-take-all game for three different franchises, joining:

• Clemens: BOS, NYY, HOU

• Cole: PIT, HOU, NYY

• Zack Greinke: LAD, AZ, HOU

• Jon Lester: BOS, OAK, CHC

“He's been in the situation before,” said Nathan Eovaldi, who threw 6 1/3 innings of one-run ball in the Game 6 win. “He knows how to go out there and compete and pitch. I think he's definitely going to be a lot better than his last outing.

“I was in the same shoes, obviously not the playoffs, but just bouncing back from start to start you continue to get better and better. And he hasn't shut it off or anything. And he's been ready to go and champing at the bit. I know that last start didn't sit so well and the competitor that he is, he is going to go out and do a great job tomorrow.”

Scherzer threw just 63 pitches in that Game 3 start, but insisted he had more in the tank. And it's hard to disagree with him, as his velocity was up and consistently, touching 96 mph and sitting 93-94 mph the entire night.

The biggest issue was Scherzer’s inability to command his slider, which often hit the dirt -- once for a wild pitch that scored a run -- or simply caught too much of the plate against an extremely disciplined Astros lineup. 

“Look, there were some bad things, I get it,” Scherzer said postgame. “But that’s where you’ve got to tune it out and look at the good, what I was able to do well. I made some mistakes, I was punished, I get it. But I also did some things well.”

In a way, it’s nearly a miracle that the Rangers have the luxury of having a likely Hall of Fame pitcher coming to the mound so soon off an injury in a Game 7 situation. But Scherzer doesn’t care that he was able to make it back to the mound. He wants to win. He didn’t do that in Game 3. 

“Maybe in the offseason, [I can think about that], but not right now,” Scherzer said after Game 3. “We're here to win. We're judged by wins and losses right now. We need to win. And that's how this game goes.”