GAME IN A NUTSHELL: Given everything that has transpired over the last week — official elimination from the NL East race, the plunking of Manny Machado, the dugout brawl between Jonathan Papelbon and Bryce Harper — there seemed little reason to pay attention to what actually was going to take place on the field Monday afternoon at Nationals Park. A makeup game against the Reds, a last-place team that had to fly into town just to take part in this meaningless exercise of schedule integrity? Why even bother playing the game at all?
Because you simply never know what might happen at any given ballpark on any given afternoon. Like a no-hitter by a guy who had already thrown one earlier this summer.
Max Scherzer didn't quite pull off that feat, but he sure came close to etching his place in baseball lore with another performances for the ages. Three months after no-hitting the Pirates, the veteran right-hander carried another one into the eighth inning before falling five outs short of history. Tucker Barnhardt's sharp single to left in the top of the eighth put an end to that, with Scherzer ultimately letting a run score before departing at inning's end to a standing ovation.
Scherzer's teammates gave him plenty of support, both at the plate — Matt den Dekker and Wilson Ramos homered — and in the field — Tyler Moore and Trea Turner each made highlight-reel plays — and allowed the Nationals to cruise to an easy victory.
It may not have meant much in the big picture, but if nothing else it gave the Nationals and their fans a chance to enjoy a couple hours of actual success on the field and to take their minds briefly off the circus off the field.
HITTING HIGHLIGHT: The Nationals sat several key regulars (Bryce Harper, Ian Desmond, Jayson Werth) and gave a few young guys a chance to play. Nobody took greater advantage of that than den Dekker, who had already been hot at the plate prior to this game and then only got hotter in this one. Den Dekker doubled in a run in the bottom of the fourth, putting the Nationals on the board. Two innings later, he launched an opposite-field homer to expand the lead to 4-0. That was den Dekker's fifth homer in limited playing time this season, his second in as many days. Over the last two days, he's 7-for-8 with 16 total bases.
PITCHING HIGHLIGHT: Pitching in an admittedly unusual setting — a half-empty stadium on a late-September Monday afternoon against an opponent that had to fly into town strictly for this makeup game that had no bearing on the standings — Scherzer was all business. He issued a 2-out walk to Joey Votto in the top of the first but struck out a pair in the inning. He issued a leadoff walk to Barnhardt in the top of the third but got out of that jam, thanks in large part to Moore's diving catch in left-center. After that, the right-hander was lights out, retiring 14 in a row during one stretch. He even dialed up his fastball to 99 mph to strike out Votto in the top of the seventh. The base hit by Barnhardt in the eighth was no cheapie: a line drive to left field. But it couldn't completely spoil another dominant performance from Scherzer that brought back plenty of good memories from his dominant first half.
KEY STAT: Five pitchers in baseball history have thrown two no-hitters in the same season: Johnny Vander Meer (1938), Allie Reynolds (1951), Virgil Trucks (1952), Nolan Ryan (1973) and Roy Halladay (2010, including one in the NLDS).
UP NEXT: The Nationals hit the road for the season's final week, stopping first in Atlanta for a 3-game series. Tanner Roark gets the start against the Braves' Matt Wisler.