In just 15 seasons of existence, the Washington Nationals have already accumulated an impressive list of individual and team accomplishments. There have been three no-hitters, a three-homer game, a triple play and of course a World Series.
Nothing, however, has been quite as rare and exclusive as what happened on May 11, 2016, four years ago today. That night, at Nationals Park, Max Scherzer became just the fifth pitcher in MLB history to strike out 20 batters in a single game.
Scherzer was just the fourth pitcher to accomplish the feat in nine innings. And he became just the second pitcher, joining Randy Johnson, to have both a no-hitter and a 20-strikeout game on his resume.
The night capped what was arguably the wildest regular season series in Nationals history if you consider all that occurred. It was a rare interleague match-up between the Nationals and Tigers, a three-game set that began on a Monday.
Everyone had circled the Wednesday night game because it was Scherzer’s first meeting with his former team and he was going to pitch opposite Jordan Zimmermann, who was also going up against the team he had recently left in free agency.
But all of that was overshadowed initially during the opener on Monday night, when news broke Stephen Strasburg had agreed to a surprise contract extension with the Nationals. Many had assumed he too would leave in free agency the following winter, yet out of nowhere he and the team brokered a seven-year, $175 million contract.
It caught a lot of people off-guard and had beat writers scrambling to confirm and report the news. The night would then take another wild turn when the Nationals won on a walk-off homer hit by Clint Robinson.
The Tuesday game wasn’t historic, but had enough to quicken your pulse. Ryan Zimmerman hit two homers and the Nats had a runner in scoring position with one out, down just one run in the ninth, before losing.
Then came Wednesday which was the pitching match-up everyone had been waiting for. Two elite pitchers at the time, both looking for retribution against teams that chose to let them go.
Nats fans were anticipating Zimmermann’s first appearance as an opponent at Nationals Park. They gave him a healthy round of applause when he was introduced and then during his first at-bat.
But Scherzer had other ideas that night. He was amped to face his former teammates and carved them up with ruthless precision.
Scherzer struck out nine of the first 11 batters he faced, eight on swinging strikeouts. He would later close with five strikeouts in the eighth and ninth innings. In the eighth, he struck out the side, all looking.
Keep in mind the Tigers were loaded with good hitters back then. This wasn’t your present-day bottom-feeder of the AL Central.
Scherzer struck out future Hall of Famer Miguel Cabrera three times, multi-time All-Stars Ian Kinsler and J.D. Martinez three times, as well as Justin Upton twice. Somehow Victor Martinez didn’t strike out once and landed three hits, including a homer to lead off the ninth.
Like all 20-strikeout games, it was barely finished off. To get 20 strikeouts, you only have seven outs to spare in a nine-inning game. If you pitch a complete game, 74.1 percent of your outs have to be Ks.
And Scherzer didn’t get his 20th until the 26th out, a swinging strikeout of Upton. During the at-bat, Upton nearly popped out in foul territory to Zimmerman, who missed the catch by a few feet. If he caught it, Scherzer almost certainly would have ended with 19.
Scherzer also had to burn 119 pitches, 96 of which were strikes. He emptied the tank to make history.
There were some remarkable post-scripts to that night. Like the fact that Tigers manager Brad Ausmus was on the opposing end of his third 20-strikeout game. He was a player on teams that faced both Kerry Wood and Roger Clemens when they struck out 20.
And then there was the all-time great quote by Scherzer to sum up the night.
“Strikeouts are sexy,” he said.
That quote still lives in the hearts and minds of Nationals fans, and his 20 strikeouts will live forever in baseball history.
Stay connected to the Capitals and Wizards with the MyTeams app. Click here to download for comprehensive coverage of your teams.
MORE NATIONALS NEWS: