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Scherzer dominates again as Nationals top Phillies

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Scherzer dominates again as Nationals top Phillies

Updated at 11:45 p.m.

PHILADELPHIA — His name has stood the test of time, known to hardcore baseball aficionados and even a fair share of casual fans if only for the remarkable feat he accomplished 77 long years ago, a feat that has stood intact all these decades and rarely has been threatened since.

There’s a reason Johnny Vander Meer is etched into baseball lore, because what he did in the summer of 1938 for the Cincinnati Reds — pitch back-to-back no-hitters — is really, really, really, really hard to do.

But boy did Max Scherzer give it his best effort Friday night at Citizens Bank Park.

Scherzer didn’t do the impossible, but he still did something only a handful of others have done in baseball history. He carried a perfect game into the sixth inning for the third straight start. And he came within nine outs of joining the great Vander Meer atop the mountain of pitching dominance.

“It just seems so improbable, to be able to do that,” Scherzer said. “You’re really speechless to even be mentioned with that.”

In the end, Scherzer settled for merely a great start, not a historic one. His eight innings of 2-run, 5-hit ball were more than enough to lead the Nationals to a 5-2 victory over the Phillies, their seventh straight win during a run that has been defined by brilliant work on the mound.

Freddy Galvis, the Phillies’ .257-hitting shortstop, was the man who thwarted Scherzer’s bid for history. His 1-out double down the right-field line in the bottom of the sixth represented Philadelphia’s first baserunner of the night and the first hit off Scherzer in a long, long time.

“Off the bat, you’re like: It’s a hit,” right fielder Matt den Dekker said. “That doesn’t happen much.”

No, it doesn’t. From a stretch that began with Carlos Gomez’s broken-bat bloop single in the seventh inning at Miller Park on June 14 and ended with Galvis’ double on Friday night, Scherzer faced 54 major-league batters and retired 52 of them. The only two to reach base during that span: Scooter Gennett via a walk and Jose Tabata via a controversial hit-by-pitch.

“It’s just complete comfort, dominance, throwing the ball where he wants it,” manager Matt Williams said. “Fifty-four batters between hits? Pretty good.”

There’s always extra anticipation when a pitcher takes the mound following a no-hitter, but it felt like there was even more than usual in the air Friday as the crowd of 22,292 began to settle in at Citizens Bank Park. The odds of one no-no, let again two in a row, are extremely low on any given night, but if ever the stars were aligned in a pitcher’s favor, this was it.

Not only was Scherzer on an incredible roll that began with his 1-hit, 16-strikeout masterpiece in Milwaukee 12 days earlier and continued Saturday with his no-hitter against the Pirates, he was facing a Phillies club primed for something bad to happen. Already owners of the worst record in baseball, with one of the sport’s least-productive lineups, they began their day with news that embattled manager Ryne Sandberg had resigned, holding a news conference before ever speaking to his players.

So with all that hovering over the ballpark, Scherzer took the mound at 7:19 p.m., the Nationals already up 1-0, and began his quest for history. And almost immediately, it became apparent he had what it would take to make a serious run at it.

Scherzer retired the side in the bottom of the first on six pitches, all strikes. He retired the side in the second on nine pitches, mixing in three balls just to prove he’s actually human.

And so it proceeded, the Phillies sending three men to the plate each inning, Scherzer retiring all three each time. He did it in the third. He did it in the fourth. He did it in the fifth.

By the time Scherzer took the mound for the bottom of the sixth, his pitch count was a meager 48. The Nationals held a 5-0 lead. He was, as he has been throughout this remarkable run, in complete, utter control.

“It’s a little stressful sometimes when he’s got the no-hitter going,” said Michael Taylor, who had to track down a couple of balls hit to deep center field on Friday. “But other than that, it’s pretty amazing what he’s been doing.”

So amazing that the mere sight of a batted ball landing on turf was a shock to the system.

With one out in the sixth, Scherzer hung a 1-1 curveball to Galvis, then watched as the diminutive shortstop roped the ball down the right-field line, reaching the fence on one hop and coasting into second base with a double.

“I made a mistake,” Scherzer said. “Eventually, I was going to run out of luck. You just move on. You just focus on the next hitter and how you’re going to get out of the next inning, and the guys you’ve got to face. Is it a letdown? Yes. But at the same time, your focus is to win the ballgame. And that’s the first and foremost thing you have to worry about. So for me, it was just bearing down and trying to find a way to get out of that inning with no runs.”

Scherzer did get out of the sixth unscathed, but he couldn’t get out of the seventh. Cesar Hernandez and Domonic Brown each doubled to give the Phillies a run, notable for the fact it ended two remarkable streaks of consecutive scoreless innings pitched: Scherzer went 24 2/3 innings on his own; the Nationals’ rotation went 48 innings combined, the second-longest streak in baseball since 1961.

His pitch count at 93, Scherzer could have called it a night at that point. He wanted to return for the eighth, though, and Williams complied.

“We had a conversation in the dugout, in the tunnel, after the seventh,” Williams said. “We trust him and what he tells us. And he was good to go out for another one.”

Scherzer made it through the eighth, though he did surrender another run (a solo homer by the slap-hitting Ben Revere) before finally wrapping his start up at an even 100 pitches, putting him in line to record his 100th career win.

“It means something,” Scherzer said. “To be able to win 100 ballgames in The Show, it’s special.”

The final tally on Scherzer’s run of excellence: 17 1/3 innings without allowing a hit, only two men reaching base at all during that time. Over his last three starts in total, he has allowed two runs on six hits, striking out 33 while walking only one in 26 innings.

To the outsider, it looks automatic. To Scherzer, it has been anything but.

“Oh, god no,” he insisted. “Those guys are good. This is tough.”

It is indeed tough. There’s a reason only one man in the long and storied history of this great game has pitched consecutive no-hitters. But anyone at Citizens Bank Park could be excused for believing, even for only a fleeting moment, that it could happen on this night.

“Actually, I was,” Taylor said. “I mean, he’s throwing so good, making good pitches. I thought he was going to do it again.”

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Bryce Harper's longtime friend Kris Bryant says Harper isn't headed for Cubs

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Bryce Harper's longtime friend Kris Bryant says Harper isn't headed for Cubs

After weeks of twists and turns and not enough information for any Nationals fan's satisfaction, the Chicago Cubs seem to be out of the race for free agent Bryce Harper.

Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant seemingly confirmed the news on Friday night from the opening ceremonies of the 2019 Cubs Convention.

"He's not signing here," Bryant said as he sat down with NBC Sports Chicago. 

Though there have been no official reports of whether or not the Cubs are completely out in the race to sign Harper, a word from one of Harper's longtime friends shouldn't be brushed aside.

Bryant and Harper took the field together in the 2016 MLB All-Star game, and faced off in the 2017 NLDS Cubs-Nats matchup. 

The pair have known each other since grade schoool, and played for rival high schools in Las Vegas. But despite their history, Bryant says that they haven't chatted much about the situation otherwise, choosing to focus on preserving their friendship.

"I never bring it up to him," Bryant admitted. "I try to be a good friend to him, and not talk about baseball when he doesn't want to talk about baseball."

"Whatever happens, I wish [him] the best."

You can see more of Bryant's interview with NBCSC below.

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What's it like for MLB players when their big contract money hits? Some advice for Bryce Harper

What's it like for MLB players when their big contract money hits? Some advice for Bryce Harper

An old friend of Max Scherzer’s came up with an idea: The new buy-in for their longstanding and hyper-competitive fantasy football league would be 10 percent of the participant’s salary. As an assistant baseball coach at a midwest Division I university, this would be a significant risk. However, he believed the chance was worth it since Scherzer had just signed with the Washington Nationals for $210 million.

Scherzer enjoyed the humor and emphatically nixed the idea. But, the point remains. Things change when finances increase to unfathomable levels. In the case of Bryce Harper, the world is about to change for generations of Harpers once he finally signs a new contract.

The idea of signing a single contract which guarantees such gargantuan sums is a strange one. Even to those signing. The 2016 Census pegged average annual American income at $57,617. If Scherzer averages 32 starts per year during the course of his seven-year deal, he’ll earn $937,500 per start. Informed having such financial clout is inconceivable to 99.9 percent of the population, Scherzer laughed in agreement.

“I know, I know,” Scherzer told me. “It’s inconceivable to me, too.”

So, what’s it like when money of that level hits? Harper’s next contract is expected to be north of Giancarlo Stanton’s $325 million extension. For this extrapolation exercise, let’s call it $350 million coming up for Harper. That should be enough to cover eight generations of Harpers at $100,000 annually for 80 years each with plenty left over. Crazy, right?

Scherzer and Ryan Zimmerman were both wealthy by any standard before signing their large deals. Scherzer banked nearly $30 million worth of contracts prior to the giant haul with the Nationals. Zimmerman cashed almost $20 million ahead of his six-year, $100 million contract extension in 2012.

They share similar views on the path to the money, why it exists and what happens (or should) after it hits.

“I think a lot of us work our whole lives, sacrifice a lot of things, [but] not for that,” Zimmerman told NBC Sports Washington. “Like, when you first start doing something, you don’t do it to make $100 million. But once you get into the business and start to do what you have to do -- it doesn’t, at least for me, I think you hope it doesn’t change who the person is. I think you come to realize, or at least I was always taught, you receive that or earn that because of the person that you are or the work that you do and you should just continue being that same person. You shouldn’t change. You’re just really fortunate to get paid that much money and play a game, but you have to remember why you got to that point.

“It’s hard to comprehend what it does to your life, because you’re in it. I think you’ll understand that more when you’re done playing. But you have the ability to obviously take care of your children and their children, and that’s the life side of it. I think that’s pretty cool. When you sign that, you realize I just took care of -- not just yourself, you don’t care about yourself -- you think about generations if you correctly take care of it.”

Scherzer was in agreement.

“Look...I think a lot of us, at the end of the day, would play this game out of love,” Scherzer said. “The money’s just a bonus on top. The money aspect of it really is just a fight for what -- the game generates all this type of money and it’s a fight for who rightfully deserves it, whether it’s the owners or the players. Who actually gets the fans to come out to the games? That’s where the business side of the game gets ugly because it turns into you’re actually having to argue what you’re actually doing on the field. That’s why it’s never a fun thing to actually talk about or have to explain, but every player understands it at the end of the day.

“Free agency exposes everything in your life. All your friends, your family. Just exposes every single circle that you have. You find out more about yourself going through that process, about the people around you, about how stable your life is. So that when you do actually sign a contract that sets you up for life, you know you’ve been down a road that you’ve had to fight for and you can just compartmentalize what’s going on, that you now have money for the rest of your life. That, at the end of the day, that is not the reason you play the game of baseball. The reason you play the game of baseball is because you want to win. For me, that was something I was able to grasp onto.”

Scherzer went on to point out there are no rule changes on the field because you own an enormous contract. The ball doesn’t care, the mound doesn’t care, the parameters of the game between the lines don’t care.

He also mentioned he still has the same favorite televisions shows. He continues to root for his favorite non-baseball teams just the same. His year-old daughter, Brooklyn, is unconcerned, as is the horde of rescue animals patrolling the house.

“Money doesn’t buy happiness,” Scherzer said. “It buys comfort and convenience.”

Zimmerman had to think for a minute when asked if he made any nonsensical purchases following his large extension. He bought a Land Rover (“or something like that”) and paid off his parents’ house. He also eventually bought a new house for his family.

“That was really it,” Zimmerman said. “... I don’t do anything crazy. I don’t know. I try not to be real stupid with anything.”

He laughed at the final line. Though it seems like sound advice, no matter income level.

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