HOUSTON -- This is the game within the game this series. Washington’s starting staff versus the Astros’ relentless lineup. Elite command vs. the league’s most patient team. Max Scherzer was first up to deal with Houston.
He lasted five innings, threw 112 pitches -- just 65 for strikes -- and made it further than it appeared he would in Game 1 of the World Series. Trailing 2-0 after one inning put Scherzer in a dire situation. His pitch count hit 26 just three outs into the game. It grew to 48 after six outs. At that point, just two innings into the game, Scherzer’s future seemed well-defined. He often worked himself out of such situations during the year. But, against this lineup, in this setting, emerging from deep water would be all the more difficult.
“Don’t get caught up in it,” Scherzer said of his mentality after the first. “Stay in the moment. Continue to execute. Just believe in your guys, that they’re going to find ways to get back in the game. We’ve done this the whole postseason. We might get down a little early, but we find a way to grind away and score runs late. I have the utmost belief in everybody in this clubhouse. When everybody gets their number called, they step up and they’re going to do their job. And [Tuesday], that happened.”
His advice was applicable for what he tried to complete on the mound. Scherzer leaned on his four-seam fastball and slider (84 of his 111 pitches). Houston relied on its ability to ignore pitches leaving the strike zone. Scherzer’s 112 pitches were a season-high for starts he lasted just five innings. His strike percentage of 58 was the lowest of his four starts this year which lasted five innings. Which pressed a question: Was Scherzer missing his spots or was Houston not chasing his purposeful out-of-the-zone pitches?
“That lineup is great,” Scherzer said. “They absolutely grinded me, never let me get in a rhythm. I was having to make pitches out of the stretch from the first inning on. For me, I just stayed with [Kurt Suzuki]. Zuk called some big-time pitches for me tonight.”
His changeup was not an effective pitch Tuesday. Scherzer threw 12, producing zero swinging strikes. His slider was the opposite: eight swinging strikes on 32 deliveries, a 25 percent swing-and-miss rate. Potent.
Up next for Scherzer is Game 5 at home, if necessary. Houston went through a full first-look Tuesday night. Going forward, the challenge only becomes that much harder since the Astros now have a recent database to work from. Tuesday, Scherzer, and the Nationals, survived the first round.
“The way I see it is: I didn’t lose the ballgame,” Scherzer said.
MORE NATIONALS NEWS: