Updated at 12:10 a.m.
NEW YORK — In a perfect world, Max Scherzer would have done this either of the two previous times he faced the Mets, either on July 31 here at Citi Field or on Labor Day at Nationals Park. Those series were turning points in the Nationals' season and played major roles in their eventual handing over of the NL East title to New York. When he took the mound Saturday on a frigid, wind-whipped night made for a late-season game of great importance, nothing really was on the line.
That shouldn't, however, take anything away from what Scherzer did accomplish. Because the right-hander still had to face 28 big-league batters, and he still couldn't let any of them record a clean base hit off him. Which is exactly what he did to cap a remarkable season.
Scherzer became only the sixth pitcher in major-league history to throw two no-hitters in the same year, blowing away the Mets with a masterful performance that only got better as it progressed. Yunel Escobar's sixth-inning throwing error proved the only blemish on the night for the Nationals, who pulled off a 2-0 victory over Matt Harvey and Co. during a memorable penultimate game to a collectively frustrating season.
"It's been a disappointing season for the team, no doubt about that," Scherzer said. "And that's why this is bittersweet. We wish we were playing longer in October, but we're not."
No matter the club's ultimate fate, Scherzer and his teammates had no trouble celebrating this achievement, not to mention his newfound place in baseball history.
Only five pitchers had previously 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, with his second no-hitter coming in the postseason).
"Speechless," Scherzer said. "You mention that. You go out there and try to accomplish as much as you can, have as much success as you can, but when you start talking about that stuff, you don't even have words for it."
In some ways, Scherzer was better in this game than any of those aforementioned pitchers were in theirs. His 17 strikeouts shattered the club record he set in Milwaukee in June. He didn't issue any walks. He struck out nine in a row, one shy of Tom Seaver's all-time record. His Game Score (a stat created by Bill James to compare singular pitching performances across generations) on this night was 104, the second-best 9-inning start of all-time and only one point behind Kerry Wood's 105 for the Cubs in 1998.
"It's awesome. It makes our job easy," said second baseman Dan Uggla, who caught one of the only hard-hit balls all night. "You don't see that too often. It just tells you how good he is, and how good he can be at any given point."
The Mets, who played most of their regulars in the opener of Saturday's doubleheader, sat most of them in the nightcap. But manager Terry Collins didn't hold back in the ninth inning. Yoenis Cespedes came off the bench to lead off the final frame, with Lucas Duda following suit. No matter: Scherzer struck out both guys, then got Curtis Granderson to popup to third to end the game and set off a mad celebration in the middle of the diamond.
"When you do something like that, we're gonna celebrate and we're gonna have fun no matter what's going on," first baseman Clint Robinson said. "A no-hitter's a no-hitter no matter how you slice it."
"It was a blast," said rookie Trea Turner, who started at shortstop with Ian Desmond off. "You watch him on TV and it's hard to describe the feeling that you get when you're actually out there and you're the one that might have to make a play in order to kind of keep the no-hitter intact. So it was intense and a lot of fun."
Scherzer was in control from the very start, retiring the side through the night's first three innings, striking out five. The only truly hard-hit ball against him came in the fourth, when Granderson lined a ball to second, with Uggla making the play with relative ease.
By the time he took the mound for the sixth, Scherzer still hadn't put a man on base, but that attempt at a perfect game was quashed when Escobar's throw to first on Kevin Plawecki's grounder skipped and bounced out of Robinson's glove.
"It's just a play that didn't get made," Scherzer said. "Yuni goes out there and competes as hard as anybody. I'm sure he doesn't feel great about it. Look, we're major leaguers. We go out there — and, especially him — he competes. He battles through injuries. I have nothing but the utmost respect for him. The play just didn't get made."
No matter, because Scherzer went right back to work and got out of the inning without anything else surrendered. Thus he carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning for the fourth time this season. (He carried a no-no into the sixth inning six times.)
Harvey was just as good as Scherzer early on, retiring the first seven batters he faced, six via strikeout. But the young Mets ace wasn't perfect. The Nationals picked up three singles off him through five innings, then managed to manufacture a run in the sixth thanks to Kelly Johnson's error, Robinson's single and Wilson Ramos' sacrifice fly.
One inning later, Uggla provided the big blow: a solo homer off reliever Hansel Robles. It was Uggla's first home run since his memorable game-winner in Atlanta on April 28, and it gave Scherzer a 2-0 cushion as he prepared for the latter innings of this game.
Turns out the right-hander didn't need any extra insurance. He seized control of this game from the moment he took the mound. And though this performance may not have led the Nationals to the postseason, it certainly does leave a good taste in his mouth as he heads home for the winter.
"Look, I get it. They won the division," he said. "They're trying to get home-field advantage. They're trying to give you everything they've got. I understand what's at stake. We're Major League Baseball players. It doesn't matter if you're in it or out of it, you have to give the effort no matter what. Tonight, I thought that as a team we did that. That's what's exciting: When everybody comes to the park, even for a doubleheader, long day, cold weather ... our guys still brought it."