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A St. Louis stinker puts Nats party on hold

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A St. Louis stinker puts Nats party on hold

ST. LOUIS -- They wanted to get this thing over with.

Sure, it's always nice to celebrate at home in front of your own fans, but the Nationals have been inching toward their first-ever division title for quite a while now, and each day that passes without them finishing it off feels like a wasted day, another day in which Davey Johnson feels forced to play all of his regulars instead of giving them a pre-postseason breather.

So the Nationals desperately wanted to celebrate at Busch Stadum Sunday afternoon, either via their own win over the Cardinals or an admittedly unlikely Braves loss at Turner Field.

In the end, they got neither. Atlanta cruised past the Mets again. And the Nationals were ambushed by St. Louis' potent lineup, with starter Ross Detwiler tagged for seven early runs and Chien-Ming Wang adding kerosene to the fire with an ugly performance out of the bullpen.

That all added up to a lopsided, 10-4 loss and (more importantly) no reduction of the Nationals' magic number. Now leading the Braves by three games with three to play, they'll head home and hope now to clinch the the NL East on Monday against a Phillies club that was already eliminated from postseason contention over the weekend.

It's not the scenario Johnson envisioned when he filled out his lineup card Sunday morning, all eight regulars in there, including catcher Kurt Suzuki (who started behind the plate for the ninth straight day).

Johnson had been saying all week he wouldn't hesitate to use up all of his best bullets, as much as necessary, to clinch the division. After that, he'd start resting guys. But a few of his managerial decisions in this game brought that sentiment into question a bit.

Which isn't to say Johnson was the No. 1 reason for this loss. The blame begins with Detwiler, who in the biggest start of his young career fell flat.

Pitching 40 miles from his hometown of Wentzville, Mo., for the first time as a big-leaguer, Detwiler entered this one with plenty of emotions running through his slender frame, knowing he'd have a chance to pitch the Nationals to a division crown in front of dozens of family and friends whose allegiances might have been a bit torn.

Perhaps the 26-year-old lefty couldn't harness all that emotion, though, because he had all sorts of trouble finding the strike zone. He escaped the first inning without allowing a run, but then issued back-to-back walks to open the bottom of the second. He appeared to get himself out of the jam by inducing a tailor-made, 4-6-3 double play grounder out of Daniel Descalso, but Danny Espinosa booted the ball, everyone was safe and the inning was prolonged.

It really was prolonged, because Detwiler responded by serving up a two-run double to Pete Kozma, an RBI single to Jon Jay and then a two-run homer to Carlo Beltran. Just like that, the Nationals trailed 5-0 and Detwiler sauntered around the mound with a look of disgust on his face.

Johnson let his starter take the mound again for the bottom of the third, but he already had Wang warming in the bullpen in case of trouble. Which Detwiler immediately got himself into, issuing a one-out walk and then surrendering another single to Descalso. Johnson strode to the mound, took the ball from his starter and handed it to Wang.

The Taiwanese right-hander has little experience as a reliever, and he hasn't been particularly effective in that role this season, but this might have been his worst performance to date. Wang's first pitch went to the backstop, letting a run score. His next pitch? Also to the backstop, letting a runner advance to third (he then scored moments later on a sacrifice fly, extending the Cardinals' lead to 7-0).

Just when things looked their bleakest, though, the Nationals came storming back in a last-ditch attempt to make a game of this. Bryce Harper led off the fourth with his 22nd homer of the season, leaving him two shy of Tony Conigliaro's all-time record for a teenager. Adam LaRoche singled. Ian Desmond doubled him home. And Espinosa atoned for his earlier error by blasting a two-run homer to right, trimming the lead to 7-4.

His team now trailing by only three runs with five innings still to go and Cardinals starter Lance Lynn on the ropes, Johnson surprisingly let Wang hit for himself with two outs and a man on base. With some awkward hacks at the plate, Wang not surprisingly struck out to kill that potential rally, then retook the mound for the bottom of the fourth hoping to stop the bleeding.

Instead, Wang opened the inning by walking Jay, then served up a two-run homer to Beltran (the veteran's second of the day, meriting a curtain call).

The Nationals now trailed 9-4, having frittered away whatever momentum they had picked up the previous inning. Nobody was warming in the bullpen. Wang was allowed to pitch another 1 23 innings before Johnson finally re-emerged from the dugout to take the ball.

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Max Scherzer reaches 300 season strikeout mark in Nationals win over Marlins

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USA Today

Max Scherzer reaches 300 season strikeout mark in Nationals win over Marlins

With a bottle of bubbly at his feet and a baseball with the inscription "300 Ks" in a case in his locker, Max Scherzer allowed himself a moment to consider what he'd just accomplished.

"It was something I dreamed of, reaching this mark," Scherzer said, "because I know how hard it is to consistently go out there and strike guys out."

Scherzer became the 17th pitcher since 1900 to strike out 300 batters in a season, reaching that milestone by fanning 10 in seven innings Tuesday night during the Washington Nationals' otherwise meaningless 9-4 victory over the Miami Marlins.

"A big number," Nationals catcher Matt Wieters said, "when you're talking about strikeouts."

Scherzer (18-7) lowered his ERA to 2.53 by allowing one run in seven innings as he bids for a third consecutive NL Cy Young Award; he also won the 2013 honor in the AL for Detroit. He threw 70 of his 100 pitches for strikes, gave up five hits and didn't walk a batter.

The righty reached 300 by getting Austin Dean to whiff on an 85-mph slider at the end of a 10-pitch at-bat for the second out of the seventh. Scherzer pumped his fist while much of the announced crowd of 26,483 -- including his wife, Erica May-Scherzer -- joined players in the home dugout and home bullpen by saluting the ace with a standing ovation.

"I definitely wanted to do it here at home," said the 34-year-old Scherzer, who is currently slated to make one more start, in Sunday's season finale at Colorado. "The fans -- unbelievable support."

They would chant, "Let's go, Max!" They would rise and cheer when he had two strikes on a hitter. They would emit a collective "Awwwwwww" when a pitch near the plate was ruled a ball -- or even when a pitch resulted in any sort of out that wouldn't add to his strikeout total.

Sweating profusely on a muggy, 78-degree evening, Scherzer had all of his repertoire working, from the 97-mph fastballs he threw past Lewis Brinson for strikeouts in the fourth and seventh innings, to the 84-mph changeup that JT Riddle missed for a K leading off the game.

As is Scherzer's wont, he stalked around the grass after strikeouts.

Asked whether he considered pulling his famously intense pitcher before No. 300, Nationals manager Dave Martinez laughed.

"I value my life," Martinez joked. "He was going to get 10 today, somehow."

Scherzer now has 10 strikeouts or more in a majors-high 18 of his 33 starts in 2018, and 82 such games for his career.

He got Dean by throwing fastball after fastball with a full count, then getting him to chase a slider.

"That's probably where you can see Max has become a more complete pitcher than he was earlier in his career," Wieters said, "where he was able to go with the slider and execute it and realize that with where that fastball was starting, (Dean is) going to be way out in front of it."

Dean's take?

"He's the best pitcher in baseball," the Marlins rookie said.

The case certainly can be made. This is, after all, a guy with two no-hitters and a 20-strikeout game on his resume, along with the Cy Youngs.

Scherzer entered Tuesday ranked No. 1 in the NL in eight significant statistical categories, including strikeouts, strikeouts-to-walks ratio (5.69), opponents' batting average (.188) and innings pitched (213 2/3). He was also tied for No. 1 in two others: wins and quality starts (27).

The expectation is that Scherzer and New York Mets starter Jacob deGrom are the main Cy Young contenders in the NL. DeGrom is 9-9 with a 1.77 ERA and single-season records of 23 consecutive quality starts and 28 starts in a row allowing three or fewer earned runs.

"There's more to pitching than just striking guys out," Scherzer said, "but also, it is a big reason why you can have success."

RENDON AND HARPER

Nationals 3B Anthony Rendon hit a three-run shot in the first inning off Jeff Brigham (0-4), increasing his season totals to 24 homers and 90 RBIs and extending his streak of reaching base to 33 straight games. Rendon added an RBI double in the seventh, when Washington batted around and tacked on six runs. ... Bryce Harper scored twice to surpass 100 runs for the season; he already had a career-best 100 RBIs and more than 100 walks. Harper can become a free agent in the offseason, so Wednesday's series finale could be the 2015 NL MVP's last home game at Nationals Park.

UP NEXT

The Nationals will give 26-year-old RHP Kyle McGowin his first start in the majors Wednesday. Miami will start LHP Wei-Yin Chen (6-11, 4.66 ERA).

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Max Scherzer reaches 300 strikeouts for the season

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USA Today

Max Scherzer reaches 300 strikeouts for the season

Nationals right-hander Max Scherzer has become the 17th major league pitcher since 1900 to strike out at least 300 batters in a season.

Scherzer reached the milestone by getting Austin Dean of the Miami Marlins to whiff on an 85 mph slider for the second out of the seventh inning Tuesday night. That was Scherzer's 10th K of the game.

He has 10 strikeouts or more in a majors-high 18 of his 33 starts in 2018.

Scherzer entered Tuesday 17-7 with a and 2.57 ERA as he tries to earn a third consecutive NL Cy Young Award with Washington. He also won the AL honor in 2013 for the Detroit Tigers.

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