HOUSTON — Max Scherzer walked toward the visiting dugout at Minute Maid Park with that look in his eyes. The Washington Nationals ace had thrown in the outfield for about 10 minutes Tuesday and, other than one exaggerated roll of his neck, seemed like himself again. He mixed soft tosses with hard throws and breaking balls. Scherzer passed a group of reporters and, two days after a doctor’s diagnosis forced the team to scratch him from Game 5 of the World Series against the Houston Astros, offered his own prognosis.

“I’m good,” he said, unprompted, eyes wide, head nodding.

Later, Scherzer told Fox Sports the cortisone shot he received Sunday worked and it relieved the impingement in his neck. He received chiropractic work and “felt almost back to normal” after he played catch Tuesday. He promised to do whatever the team needs, though that wouldn’t be throw in Game 6. Manager Dave Martinez decided to hold out his ace not only to save him for a potential Game 7 but also because he didn’t want the right-hander to start on the same day he felt back to normal.

After Tuesday’s 7-2 win in Game 6, Martinez made it official, announcing Scherzer as his Game 7 starter. He said he actually was considering using Scherzer, who warmed in the bullpen, if Game 6 was tied and they needed him. But they shut him down as soon as additional runs were scored.

“This is what you live for,” Scherzer said after the Game 6 victory. “For me, I am in my pregame routine now. That’s where I’m just at mentally. Here we go.”

After being a late scratch in Game 5 because of neck spasms, Washington Nationals pitcher Max Scherzer says he's ready to start in Game 7. (The Washington Post)

The 35-year-old admitted frustration during the last three days trying to hurry back to be here for his team, but it sounded as though he’d come to terms with missing Game 5.

“I didn’t feel like I let the team down because there was literally no way I could even raise my arm above my head,” he said before Game 6. “I was in no way able to pitch. But hey, that’s just the way playoffs go sometimes. There’s unexpected turns.”

It’s a surprising turnaround for Scherzer, a competitive bulldog, because he was in visible pain the last time he made a public appearance. He spoke to reporters on Sunday after the Nationals sidelined him because spasms in his neck and right trapezius muscle, the area behind his shoulder, prevented him from moving that morning. His wife helped dress him and later, in the news conference, he rotated his entire upper body to listen to questions.

“I’m as disappointed as I possibly can be to not be able to pitch tonight,” he said at the time. “It’s Game 5 of the World Series. I’ve pitched through so much crap in my career that would be easy to pitch through at this point. It’s literally impossible to do anything with.”

Nationals Manager Dave Martinez says pitcher Max Scherzer, who was a late scratch from Game 5 in the World Series, will be ready to go if there's a Game 7. (Jorge Ribas/The Washington Post)

The injury was not related to the back injuries that landed him on the injured list twice this summer, Scherzer said. He called it “a little thing that turned into a big thing that turned into a giant thing.”

The pain had started a few days earlier, but he hadn’t paid attention to it because he has had “little neck spasms” before and pitched through them. But when he got treatment Friday, the neck didn’t feel right, and batting practice, which usually loosened him up, didn’t help. He woke up Sunday “completely locked up,” fell out of bed and could use only his left arm. Doctors later assuaged concerns that this might be a serious injury and told him, as long as there was no numbness, he couldn’t do any “serious, long-term damage.”

The team and the pitcher then decided he should receive a cortisone shot Sunday morning. It should alleviate the pain but would take at least 48 hours to become effective. It apparently kicked in by Tuesday morning, which sets him up to start a winner-take-all Game 7.

Washington Nationals outfielder Adam Eaton said he thought that if injured pitcher Max Scherzer could start in a possible Game 7, he would. (Jorge Ribas/The Washington Post)

In one way, it makes sense Scherzer would bounce back so quickly. He has a reputation for playing through pain, including earlier this season, when he broke his nose on a bunt attempt during batting practice and threw seven scoreless innings the next night anyway. He later tried to push through rehabilitation for his back injury and challenged his manager to rein him in. He pushed at less than 100 percent, hurt himself further and landed back on the IL. Teammates, opponents and his manager acknowledged how much pain he must have felt to miss Game 5, a 7-1 Nationals loss.

Astros starting pitcher Justin Verlander, who played with Scherzer in Detroit, captured the sentiment: “It’s got to be pretty bad,” he said.

Scherzer is healthy enough to pitch again in this series. It crushed him to miss Game 5, but with the Nationals getting to Game 7, it might offer him some redemption.

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