WASHINGTON – Some people are shopaholics. Max Scherzer is a stopaholic.
In the Washington Nationals’ 4-0 win over the Baltimore Orioles on Thursday, Scherzer stopped the Nats’ four-game losing streak. He stopped a hot and heavy-hitting Orioles lineup. He stopped the D.C.-area panic attack caused by Stephen Strasburg landing on the disabled list, and stopped the Washington bullpen from imploding due to exhaustion. He even stopped a ground ball from going up the middle and into the outfield by making a backward, between-the-legs circus play.
Because that’s what stoppers do.
About the only thing that Scherzer didn’t stop on Thursday was the National League Cy Young debate. He tossed eight scoreless innings of two-hit ball to lower his ERA to 2.92 (10th in the NL). He fanned 10 helpless Orioles hitters (and walked none), increasing his major league-leading strikeout total to 227. He won his 14th game, tied for third-most in the NL. In the process, Scherzer — who won the 2013 AL Cy Young with Detroit — further muddied a tight Cy Young race headlined by Cubs hurlers Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester and San Francisco’s Johnny Cueto.
But that’s all gravy as far as the Nats are concerned. The turkey was what Scherzer’s showing meant for a Washington squad that was on the verge of getting swept by its northeasterly neighbors in front of a sellout crowd that seemed equal parts orange and red.
“The key thing is that we won the game,” manager Dusty Baker said. “Maxie pitched awesome. He had it from the opening pitch. That’s what aces do. He shut down a very high-powered offense.”
He also shut down a raucous Orioles contingent that threatened to take over Nats Park. With Washington clinging to a 1-0 lead in the top of the eighth, Scherzer allowed a leadoff single to slugger Mark Trumbo. Baltimore fans responded by cranking up the noise and chanting, “Let’s go O’s!” Although it seemed like a good idea at the time, in retrospect, all it did was stoke Scherzer’s fire.
“That really kind of ticked me off,” the uber-excitable right-hander said. “When they’re sitting out there cheering at our park, I didn’t like that. That pissed me off.”
And it showed. Scherzer whiffed Jonathan Schoop on three pitches, finishing him off with 97 mph cheese. He followed that by punching out Matt Wieters, then ended the threat by getting J.J. Hardy to fly out on a 96 mph heater that was the last of his 95 pitches on the night (72 for strikes). Even though he gave way to closer Mark Melancon for the ninth, Scherzer’s eight-inning outing gave relief to a relief core that was running on fumes.
“Boy, we needed that so badly,” Baker said. “He saved my bullpen.”
When it was all said and done, Scherzer had struck out 10-plus and allowed two or fewer hits for the third time this season, two times more than any other pitcher in baseball. It also was the ninth time he’s fanned at least 10 and walked nobody, the most in Nationals history. As if that weren’t enough, there was the circus play he made in the fifth.
With one out and nobody on, Schoop slashed a sharp grounder up the middle. Scherzer turned his back toward the plate in anticipation of getting hit, then reached down between his legs and somehow managed to glove the ball before tossing to first for the out.
“It was an accident,” Scherzer said. “I was turning away from the ball, then it just became, ‘Hey, look what I found,’ and I knocked it down.”
“I think we’ll be hearing a lot about that the next couple of days,” Bryce Harper said of his teammate’s highlight-reel play, “so I don’t want to give him too much credit.”
But Harper was happy to give Scherzer credit for everything else, including helping to push Washington’s lead in the NL East back to eight games over Miami.
“He’s one of the best in baseball,” Harper said. “Unbelievable start by him tonight. You kind of imagine him going out there and doing that, and then when he does it, it’s that much better. He’s a guy that goes out there and competes every five days and somebody that you can rely on out there. A lot of fun to watch and a lot of fun to be a part of. That’s Maxie for ya.”
That’s a stopper for ya.