If you watched the first two batters in the top of the eighth inning of the Nats-Orioles game Thursday night, you couldn’t help but notice two things.
1) After Mark Trumbo singled, the crowd noise immediately went up a few levels. First Orioles fans started chanting, and then Nats fans started answering them.
2) The next batter was Jonathan Schoop, who struck out on three pitches. And during those three pitches, Max Scherzer transformed from “intense and dominant starting pitcher” to “wide-eyed screaming crazy dude.”
Turns out these two developments were linked.
Start with the crowd noise. In a perfectly normal development, there were many Orioles fans at Nationals Park on Thursday night. But with only one hit through seven innings, they didn’t have much cause to make noise. Trumbo’s bloop single evidently changed that.
“Competing fans getting after each other here,” Bob Carpenter said on Original MASN. “This is great.”
“A lot of Oriole fans making some noise, and the Nationals fans responding,” Gary Thorne said on MASN The Sequel.
“The battle of the crowd here,” Charlie Slowes said on the radio broadcast.
So clearly this Baltimore-influenced noise was hard to miss. And Scherzer didn’t miss it.
“It was just one of those things; it was the eighth inning, and we were winning the ballgame and I just remember hearing the Orioles fans,” Scherzer said in a Friday morning interview on 106.7 The Fan. “I mean, they’re obviously going to be there. You know it’s a great rivalry. But it just felt like it got really loud considering the situation. To have that many O’s fans cheering at that point in time, man, I didn’t like that. I’m not gonna lie.”
He didn’t attempt to hide it, either. Schoop was the first man who had to deal with the angry Scherzer. First he swung through a 95-mph rocket, at which point Scherzer began screaming at himself.
“Ooh, there’s the face,” F.P. Santangelo said. “The Snarl.”
“Did you see that?” Thorne asked.
“Whoa,” Mike Bordick responded. “How about that intensity right there? Getting on himself a little bit.”
“He’s talking to himself,” Santangelo said. “I love it. Closer mode, here we go. There’s been a personality change all of a sudden on the mound.”
“Max is giving himself a pep talk,” Dave Jageler said on the radio. “He is barking at himself.”
In other words, it took all of one pitch after the Orioles fans made noise for all the broadcasters (and TV viewers) to notice that Scherzer had changed.
Then came a foul ball. And then came a 97-mph fastball that Schoop flailed at. Then Scherzer screamed some more.
“I just got goosebumps when he struck him out,” Santangelo said. “He is in the closer mode, folks. Look at this. That’s a guy you want to run through a wall for.”
“He’s doing the Scherzer Stalk right now,” Jageler said. “He’s fired up after that strikeout. He’s starting to stomp around that mound. A look of determination and a fist pump.”
Then came another strikeout, with Matt Wieters nowhere near a change-up. I mean, look at this.
Then came a flyout. And then the inning, and Scherzer’s latest brilliant night, was over. It was one of his best starts of the season, and the Orioles fans helped bring it home.
“When you’re in your home park, you want your home fans cheering for you, not the opposing fans,” he said on Friday. “So when I heard that, that definitely ticked me off and I definitely wanted to do something about that. And that put the full adrenaline in.”
Here is Scherzer after that first strikeout. He indeed looks ticked off.