WASHINGTON -- The Austin Bibens-Dirkx Magical Mystery Tour continued through the nation's capital Sunday afternoon, when the Rangers' 32-year-old right-hander found himself in a taut pitching duel with a two-time Cy Young Award winner.
Max Scherzer was the one who blinked first, and the Rangers, scoring four runs in the eighth inning, completed a three-game sweep of the Nationals with a 5-1 victory at Nationals Park.
"It's a great feeling," Bibens-Dirkx said. "The only thing that would have made it better if I had gotten a hit, but at least I fouled a couple of ones off."
Bibens-Dirks was making just his second Major League start and sixth overall appearance since his heart-warming promotion after 12 years wandering in the Minor, winter and independent Leagues. Bibens-Dirkx didn't even know for sure he was starting Sunday until Saturday afternoon.
Max Scherzer on the other hand, well, he is Max Scherzer. He had won his past three games with an 0.73 ERA, a 0.61 WHIP and 38 strikeouts in 24 2/3 innings.
"I had no idea I was pitching, and I didn't know who they were pitching," Bibens-Dirkx said. "Then I found out I was pitching and my wife [Leah] told me it was Scherzer. I said, 'That's going to be a lot of fun … I hope I don't look incredibly dumb.'"
Catcher Jonathan Lucroy said Bibens-Dirkx knew what he was up against.
"It didn't bother him too much," Lucroy said. "He showed the experience of pitching in Venezuela and just about everywhere else. He came in here and matched up against Max Scherzer all the way to the eighth inning."
The Rangers knew what they were doing. The Nationals are a fastball-hitting team and Bibens-Dirkx throws a variety of offspeed pitches from a variety of angles. The Rangers knew they had a chance if he threw enough strikes.
"I had a good mix of pitches and Lucroy was behind the plate," Bibens-Dirkx said. "We had a game plan and I followed him. A lot of trust … the key was we were on the same page and I was able to execute pitches."
It made for a tough afternoon for the Nationals.
"It seems like he had about six different versions of offspeed pitches," Nationals catcher Matt Wieters said. "Felt like I had some pitches to hit and couldn't quite barrel them up. Can't really pinpoint why. Sometimes he was able to mix and match his offspeed for strikes, which made it a little bit difficult."
Opening the bottom of the first, Bibens-Dirkx gave up a home run to Brian Goodwin and a single to Bryce Harper. Then he retired 19 straight hitters, the most ever by a Rangers rookie pitcher. With the score tied at 1, the Nationals mounted a two-out rally in the seventh when Anthony Rendon singled and Adam Lind walked. But Bibens-Dirkx retired Wieters on a grounder to first to end the inning.
"Like I said before, whoever pitches against Max is going to pitch their best game ever because they know they can't give up much," Nationals manager Dusty Baker said. "We had never seen that guy, he was changing speeds and throwing his cutter, changeup, slider, he was getting all his pitches over."