Patrick Corbin surrendered six runs in two-thirds of an inning of relief, and suddenly the heart of the Dodgers’ lineup, which had struggled through the first two games of the series, came alive. By the time Wander Suero, who replaced Corbin and gave up a three-run home run to Justin Turner, walked off the mound at the end of the top of the sixth, one thing was clear: Washington will need to lean on Scherzer.
“We got Mad Max on the mound tomorrow,” Nationals Manager David Martinez said after his team’s 10-4 loss, which left Washington down 2-1 in the best-of-five series, “which puts, I believe, puts us in a great position.”
The Nationals may be a playoff team thanks to Scherzer. In the beginning of June, with the team seven games below .500, Scherzer embarked on a winning streak that included some of the best pitching of his Hall of Fame-bound 12-year career. He won seven straight starts from June 2 to July 6, allowing just five runsover 52 innings and posting a 0.87 earned run average.
In the middle of it, he fouled a ball off his nose in batting practice, then pitched a day later with a black eye. It was a gem: seven innings, four hits, 10 strikeouts against the rival Phillies. Before the thing healed, he went eight innings in a win against Miami and another eight against Detroit. Washington was 1 1/2 games out of a wild-card spot by the end of June.
And since, even while battling injuries and a stretch of rough outings to close the regular season, even after getting roughed up in a start in the single-game wild-card elimination round against Milwaukee, Scherzer has still been the ace in the Nationals’ back pocket.
“You just ride him,” catcher Kurt Suzuki said. “All the pitching, the whole starting rotation. Those guys have been great for us all year and we just got to keep plugging away.”
Having Scherzer on the mound “makes everybody pumped,” he added.“Max brings a certain level of intensity that not a lot of guys can bring and I think he just fires everybody up. “Everyone gets excited.”
Martinez used Scherzer in relief in Game 2 of the series in Los Angeles, handing him the ball in the eighth inning after a Dodgers home run off Sean Doolittle in the seventh. He needed 14 pitches, 11 of them strikes, to mow through three strikeouts and end the inning. Martinez held him out of Game 3 specifically to give him a maximum leash in Game 4, a spot in which the Nationals would either be able to close out the Dodgers or — now — hold them off to force a Game 5.
Asked Sunday how many innings he could give Martinez on Monday with a day’s rest, Scherzer responded, “everything.”
“For me, it’s just a mentality of just going out there with everything on the line,” Scherzer said. “The atmospheres I’ve pitched in, here with the wild-card game and then there on the road in Dodger Stadium, I mean, that’s been intense. So you’re going to get the best out of me. And there’s no regular season environment that I can replicate that.”