Scherzer gets no-no! But perfect? No way, Jose
Displaying power and command, Nats righty had a day to remember
WASHINGTON -- It started with a Josh Harrison popout to second base. It ended two hours and 21 minutes later with Harrison at the plate and no Pittsburgh hits on the board.
Max Scherzer, one start after tossing a one-hit shutout, threw the second no-hitter in Nationals history on Saturday in a 6-0 Washington win.
"It's definitely at the top," Scherzer said, stacking the rare feat against the rest of his many professional accomplishments. "My last two starts, this is some of the best baseball I've thrown, best pitching I've done. I just feel like I'm executing all of my pitches. I just continue to keep getting better."
For 26 outs, Scherzer was better than unhittable. He was perfect.
With two strikes and 41,104 phones recording his every move, Scherzer hit Jose Tabata with a slider.
"He tried to throw a slider inside, and it didn't break. It stayed right there," Tabata said. "And he got me. He got me on the elbow, on the protection [his elbow pad]. I want to do my job."
It was Scherzer's only blemish.
"You just focus on what you can do next," Scherzer said. "Just move on to the next hitter and go after Harrison and do everything you can do and just pound him with fastballs, and I was able to collect that final out."
Scherzer wasn't the first player to lose his perfect game by hitting a batter with two outs in the ninth. Back in 1908, Giants pitcher George Wiltse hit the 27th batter he faced before closing out a 10-inning no-hitter against the Phillies.
The most impressive thing about Scherzer's historic afternoon was how, in the eyes of his manager and teammates, it was just another Scherzer outing.
All afternoon, Scherzer was a model of efficiency. It took only 15 pitches to burn through the first two innings.
"They were very aggressive today. I know they're a great fastball-hitting team, but really when you look at the first pitch the first time through the order, they were swinging," Scherzer said. "I could tell their game plan, and I was going to force their hand into their game plan."
From there, he shifted into strikeout mode, painting his fastball and breaking off his slider. Five of his next six outs came via the strikeout. He finished with 10 strikeouts.
"Command in the zone, command out of the zone," manager Matt Williams said. "Throwing it where he needs to to get strikes and then climbing the ladder and expanding when he needs to as well. We saw a lot of that in the last two starts that he's had."
With his pitch count at 92 going into the ninth, he felt as strong as when he threw his first warmup pitch. He credits the extra work he puts in on the four days he isn't leading the Nats.
Anthony Rendon caught a ball while running into the Pirates' dugout railing for the first out of the ninth. That play, along with Michael Taylor's running catch in the third and Danny Espinosa's quick release from second in the eighth, headlined the defense behind him.
Jordy Mercer lined out to center and perfection was just on the other side of Tabata.
"It was a really good at-bat," said catcher Wilson Ramos, who can add this memory to Jordan Zimmermann's no-hitter that he caught last year.
In a 2-2 count, one strike away from perfection, Scherzer's slider ran too far in.
"I just didn't finish the pitch. It backed up on me and clipped him," Scherzer said. "That's just one of those things that happened. You just focus on what you can do next."
Next was Harrison -- the only batter Scherzer faced four times -- and as easily as it started, it was over on a flyout to left.
"He had fantastic stuff," Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle said of Scherzer. "The fastball command, the breaking ball … in 13 starts, he's got 14 walks so that's not in the game plan against him. You gotta find a way to hit him."
The mob on the mound was followed by Scherzer receiving the tradition he started when he came to Washington in the offseason. Six bottles of chocolate syrup, smothering his face, hat, jersey and neck -- sign of a job well done.
"Cloud nine," Scherzer said. "When you can celebrate with your teammates on just a major accomplishment, there's nothing better."