When Max Scherzer signed with the Nationals on January 21, 2015, an ESPN poll of MLB executives deemed it the worst free-agent signing of the offseason.
Five years later, it’s clear the findings of that poll couldn’t have been further from the truth.
Scherzer has built up the bulk of his Hall of Fame resume while in Washington, securing two Cy Youngs, three top-10 MVP finishes and more strikeouts than any other pitcher in baseball. He made the jump from star to legend and no one has stood to benefit more than the Nationals.
On the five-year anniversary of him agreeing to come to D.C., here are Scherzer’s five best moments while donning the Curly W.
5. The black eye game (June 19, 2019)
It’s one thing to blank your division rival with 10 strikeouts over seven scoreless innings. It’s another thing entirely to do it one day after fouling a ball off your face and breaking your nose.
But that’s exactly what Scherzer did. As if the man who literally grunts when he throws and stalks around the mound couldn’t be any more of an animal, he pitched through the pain and mowed down a Philadelphia Phillies team that entered the game with the third-best record in the National League.
The game was also part of a historic month for Scherzer, who went 6-0 with a 1.00 ERA and 68 strikeouts in June. He became only the fourth pitcher in MLB history to record a month with an ERA that low and strikeout total that high, joining Pedro Martinez, Roger Clemens and Randy Johnson.
4. Game 7 of the 2019 World Series (Oct. 30, 2019)
When Scherzer woke up on the morning of his scheduled Game 5 start against the Houston Astros in the World Series, he needed the assistance of his wife to get out of bed. He’d dealt with back issues during the second half, but these neck spasms sprung up at the worst possible time and forced Washington to scratch Scherzer from his start.
But three days and one cortisone shot later, Scherzer was back out on the mound for Game 7 looking to save the Nationals’ season. With his injury being so severe and so recent, no one was sure what to expect out of Scherzer in that game.
He gutted his way through five innings of two-run ball, handing the game over to Patrick Corbin. The Nationals won the game, and the World Series, with Scherzer playing a significant role. It wasn’t one of the vintage, masterful performances that Nationals fans have grown accustomed to seeing over the years, but it was enough to return baseball glory to the District for the first time in 95 years.
3. Pair of no-hitters (June 20 & Oct. 3, 2015)
OK, this is technically cheating. But Scherzer has thrown two no-hitters in his career and they both came within four months of each other. He’s only the fifth pitcher to ever achieve the feat twice in the same season, making their historical significance forever intertwined.
That’s not the only thing they have in common, either. Both were also one blip away from being perfect games as well. Against the Pittsburgh Pirates, Scherzer was one out away from a perfecto when pinch hitter Jose Tabata leaned in and took a pitch off his elbow guard to become the first player to reach base against him in that game.
When facing the New York Mets in his final start of the season, Scherzer once again had a perfect game entering the sixth inning. But a groundball to third base was thrown wide by Yunel Escobar, allowing Kevin Plawecki to reach base. Scherzer would recover and still finish out the no-hitter, but the perfect game eluded him once again.
2. Game 2 of the 2019 NLCS (Oct. 12, 2019)
When Aníbal Sánchez led off the NLCS by carrying a no-hitter into the eighth inning, he set the bar high for the rest of the Nationals’ pitching staff to reach the rest of the series. That didn’t stop Scherzer from doing his best to try and match it, carrying a no-hitter of his own into the seventh.
He allowed a single to Paul Goldschmidt to open the frame but finished it off with a double play to erase the baserunner. By Bill James’ metric Game Score, Scherzer’s start graded out at an 84—the highest mark Scherzer has ever accrued in a postseason start.
It would be a defining performance for Scherzer in the 2019 playoffs, as the Nationals went 5-0 in games he started. When fans look back on his contributions to Washington’s World Series run, no game will stand out more than this one.
1. 20-strikeout game (May 11, 2016)
This game may have come on a random Wednesday night in the middle of May, but the single-most historic achievement Scherzer has earned in his career was striking out 20 Detroit Tigers in a game.
Two of his first three outs were recorded via strikeout. Then five of six. Then eight of nine. Then 11 of 15. Then 15 of 21. Then 18 of 24. He got the first two outs of the ninth inning via the strikeout and had the chance to set the record with 21 but James McCann eked out a grounder to end the game.
Scherzer had to settle with 20, tying Randy Johnson, Kerry Wood, Roger Clemens (twice) and Tom Cheney for the most in a nine-inning game. Forget the no-hitters and postseason performers. Those have been done hundreds of times and they’ll be done hundreds of times again. Twenty strikeouts is a truly elite accomplishment only done by the very few.
If any performance truly encapsulates his historic career, it was May 11, 2016.
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