Na­tion­als’ Scherzer com­pletes no-hitter one bat­ter af­ter hit-by-pitch gives Pi­rates their only run­ner

The Washington Post Sunday - - SPORTS - BY JAMES WAG­NER

Max Scherzer had re­tired the first 26 Pittsburgh Pi­rates in or­der. One re­mained, and pinch hitter Jose Ta­bata was one strike away from be­com­ing the fi­nal out of the first per­fect game in Washington Na­tion­als history Satur­day af­ter­noon. Ta­bata put up a fight. Scherzer threw an in­side slider, but it didn’t break like nor­mal. In­stead, it grazed Ta­bata’s drop­ping el­bow, and the fren­zied Na­tion­als Park crowd moaned. Scherzer dropped his head, called for the next ball and re­grouped. “Took two sec­onds,” he said.

He threw three more pitches, the last — his 106th of a swel­ter­ing af­ter­noon— in­duc­ing Josh Har­ri­son to lift a soft fly­ball to left field. Michael A. Tay­lor set­tled un­der it for the fi­nal out of a 6-0 win. In a mat­ter of mo­ments, Scherzer lost his bid for per­fec­tion but

notched the sec­ond no-hitter in Na­tion­als history.

Scherzer threw up his hands, hugged catcher Wil­son Ramos and was mobbed by his team­mates in the in­field. “Cloud nine,” he said. In his pre­vi­ous start, Scherzer came within inches of a no-hitter in Mil­wau­kee, a bro­ken-bat bloop sin­gle spoil­ing his bid. On Satur­day, he joined team­mate Jor­dan Zim­mer­mann as the only pitch­ers to throw no-hit­ters in Na­tion­als history.

“It was un­be­liev­able,” said Bryce Harper, whose fourth-in­ning home run gave the Na­tion­als a 1-0 lead. “He’s as good as ad­ver­tised ev­ery time he goes out there. He’s made for great­ness.”

Scherzer’s op­po­nents are 1 for 55 with one walk and one hit-by-pitch against him over his past two starts with 26 strike­outs, 10 com­ing Satur­day. In that span, he has more hits — two sin­gles — than his op­po­nents. Scherzer be­came the first player since Jim Tobin of the Bos­ton Braves in 1944 to al­low one hit or fewer in con­sec­u­tive com­plete games.

“My last two starts, this is some of the best base­ball I’ve thrown,” Scherzer said. “Best pitch­ing I’ve done. I feel like I’m ex­e­cut­ing with all of my pitches.”

The er­rant slider to Ta­bata made Scherzer the first pitcher to lose a per­fect game with a hit-by pitch with two outs in the ninth in­ning since Hooks Wiltse in 1908. The Na­tion­als did not ar­gue the call. Man­ager Matt Wil­liams said he didn’t con­sider step­ping out of the dugout to talk to home plate um­pire Mike Much­lin­ski be­cause he didn’t want to mess with Scherzer’s rhythm. “That’d be a cry­ing shame,” he said.

Ramos said Ta­bata’s el­bow was in the strike zone. Watch­ing from right field, Harper crouched down into a squat: “I wanted to cry,” he said.

“It got me in the el­bow, the pro­tec­tor el­bow,” Ta­bata said. “He try to throw me like a slider some­thing in­side, but the slider no break­ing, so it stay in, right there, he got me.”

Scherzer blamed no one but him­self for the pitch. He had Ta­bata backed into a cor­ner with two strikes, but Ta­bata fouled off five pitches in the at-bat.

“Just didn’t fin­ish the pitch,” Scherzer said. “Backed up on me and clipped him. It’s just one of those things that hap­pened. Just fo­cus on what you can do next.”

And for the en­tire game, Scherzer did just that. He knifed through the Pi­rates’ lineup with ease. Zim­mer­mann threw a no­hit­ter on the fi­nal day of the reg­u­lar sea­son last year with a de­fense that changed nearly ev­ery in­ning. Scherzer got one of the Na­tion­als’ best de­fen­sive align­ments all game.

Be­cause Yunel Es­co­bar was scratched just be­fore the game with a stom­ach bug, An­thony Ren­don played his nat­u­ral po­si­tion of third base, Danny Espinosa was at sec­ond and Ian Desmond was at short. And Scherzer used his de­fense.

The Pi­rates made solid con­tact against him in the sec­ond in­ning, all long fly­balls, but Harper, De­nard Span and Tay­lor, who slammed against the left field wall, made run­ning catches for outs. Few balls reached that far over the next seven in­nings. The first time through the or­der, the Pi­rates swung early. Af­ter that, Scherzer ad­justed.

“It was just kind of the cat-and­mouse thing where I could rec­og­nize what they were do­ing,” he said.

Play­ing in his first game since in­jur­ing his ham­string Thurs­day, Harper boosted Scherzer, smash­ing a solo home run in the fourth in­ning to cen­ter field off Pi­rates starter Fran­cisco Liri­ano, only the sec­ond home run he has al­lowed to a left-handed bat­ter this sea­son. Harper’s 23rd home run — in his 69th game — is a ca­reer high.

Scherzer may not have needed it, but the Na­tion­als got him five more runs of sup­port, four com­ing in the sixth. Span reached on a wild pitch, stole his eighth base and scored on Ren­don’s dou­ble. Harper sin­gled to score Ren­don, and Tyler Moore’s two-run sin­gle chased Liri­ano.

As he did in be­tween ev­ery in­ning, Scherzer watched from the air-con­di­tioned club­house. He changed his un­der­shirt nearly ev­ery in­ning. De­spite the long half-in­ning in the sixth, he was sharp to start the sev­enth, get­ting three quick outs, in­clud­ing a strike­out of An­drew McCutchen with a wicked slider. Scherzer bounced off the mound, pumped his fist and jogged into the dugout while the 41,104 peo­ple in at­ten­dance cheered.

“It was pretty ex­haust­ing out there,” he said. “It was nice and hot and hu­mid. Go­ing through the first six in­nings was pretty tir­ing and ex­haust­ing, just men­tally, but I just kept fir­ing, pound­ing the zone.”

“I didn’t think they were go­ing to touch any­thing he was throw- ing up there,” Harper said

With two outs in the eighth, the Na­tion­als shifted far to the right against left-handed hitter Pe­dro Alvarez. Scherzer got Alvarez to hit a soft ground­ball that way. Ren­don dived for the ball but couldn’t make the play. Espinosa, stand­ing in shal­low right field, ran to his right, scooped it up and fired a laser to first base to get Alvarez by a step. Near the first base line, Scherzer spun, pumped his fist and screamed.

“I knew I had to get rid of it quick,” Espinosa said.

Scherzer took the mound again in the ninth to a stand­ing ova­tion. No one could sit for the fi­nal three outs. Gre­gory Polanco popped out to Ren­don, who made the catch in foul ter­ri­tory at the rail­ing of the Pi­rates’ dugout. Jordy Mercer flied out to Span.

And then came the only base run­ner on the 27th hitter Scherzer faced. Soon there­after, Scherzer was bathed with six bot­tles of cho­co­late syrup by Zim­mer­mann, Harper and Jayson Werth. It is a goofy tra­di­tion Scherzer started. His hat and jersey may be the first in Cooperstown with cho­co­late stains.

“That’s awe­some,” Scherzer said. “Just shows you how much fun we’re hav­ing a team.”

PHOTOS BY JOHN MCDON­NELL/THE WASHINGTON POST

The score­board tells most of the story af­terMax Scherzer throws the Nats’ sec­ond no-hitter, join­ing Jor­dan Zim­mer­mann from last year’s reg­u­lar sea­son fi­nale.

TOP: Sec­ond base­man Danny Espinosa makes a strong throw to re­tire Pe­dro Alvarez to end the eighth. With a shift on, An­thony Ren­don is able to stay out of his way.

GLOVE­WORK: Washington’s de­fense made all the plays Satur­day, help­ing Scherzer come within a bat­ter of a per­fect game on his way to a no­hit­ter. BOT­TOM: Ren­don, play­ing third base, goes over the rail­ing for the first out of the ninth.

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