But Scherzer wasn’t the headliner at Coors Field. That distinction belonged to Ohtani, the first player lined up both to start an All-Star Game on the mound and bat leadoff for the American League, which he will do in Tuesday night’s Midsummer Classic.
“I wish I could hit,” Scherzer joked, though anyone who knows him knows he wasn’t entirely joking. “I’m 0 for the first half.”
But when NL Manager Dave Roberts announced Monday that Scherzer would be his starter Tuesday, Scherzer made a different kind of history, the kind that accumulates over years.
Scherzer has been an all-star every year since 2013 — not including last season, when no all-stars were selected. No active pitcher has started as many All-Star Games as Scherzer’s soon-to-be four. Only five other pitchers in baseball history have started as many.
At 36, Scherzer will be the oldest pitcher to start for the NL since 41-year-old Roger Clemens did so in 2004. Only Don Drysdale, Lefty Gomez and Robin Roberts — all Hall of Famers — have started five. Of those three, all but Drysdale were inducted into Cooperstown before Scherzer was born. Drysdale was inducted two weeks later.
The Dodgers’ Roberts said he selected Scherzer in part because Dave Martinez and the Nationals’ coaching staff didn’t get a chance to choose a starter after their 2019 World Series win because the 2020 game was canceled because of the coronavirus. But he also talked about Scherzer’s track record and what he has meant to baseball, noting that he has “stood the test of time” and referring to “what he’s done for the game of baseball.”
There have been other pitchers with strong cases to start All-Star Games during Scherzer’s run — such as the New York Mets’ Jacob deGrom, who opted out this season. But Scherzer has been consistent enough to earn the starts, either outright or as a second choice. It’s a testament to both his durability and the pride he takes in being there to be called upon.
Since the year Scherzer made his first all-star appearance in 2013, no starter has thrown more innings than his 1,650⅔. Second is Zack Greinke (1,562⅓) — a gap of about 10 complete games’ worth of innings.
“He’s precise in what he does every day. He knows his body really, really well,” Nationals shortstop Trea Turner said. “He knows how to fix things when something feels bad.”
Scherzer refers to those adjustments as “patches” or “workarounds,” ways he can alter his delivery to account for an ache or bruise here and there. When he doesn’t feel like he can find a patch, he doesn’t pitch. But he almost always pitches.
And he always prepares, so much so that Nationals outfielder Juan Soto said he often looks over and sees Scherzer studying more than any other pitcher in the clubhouse, even though he knows opponents by heart.
“You never really feel like you’re on to him,” said Philadelphia Phillies catcher J.T. Realmuto, who will catch Scherzer on Tuesday night but doesn’t expect Scherzer to give away much of his thought process to a division opponent. Only a handful of hitters have faced Scherzer more than Realmuto, but the pitcher holds firm to the element of surprise.
“The only thing that has changed over the years is now when I get two strikes on me I get to see his eyeballs staring at me from the outfield in D.C.,” said Atlanta Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman, who has 44 career at-bats against Scherzer, many under the glare of the flashing Nationals Park graphic that pops up whenever Scherzer nears another strikeout.
“He’s one of those guys when you wake up in the morning and get your coffee, you know it’s going to be a mental grind,” Freeman continued. “You’re exhausted after those games because every pitch he makes is a competitive pitch. Every pitch he throws makes you want to swing at it.”
When Freeman and others talk about Scherzer, they always seem to be fending off a smile. Something about Scherzer — about his relentless competitiveness and demonstrative style, about the sustained success mixed with a little bit of insanity — makes him a beloved presence. His effort would be annoying if it were not also the reason he is destined for Cooperstown.
“He’s a brilliant pitcher. His mind is going a million miles an hour whether he’s on the mound or whether he’s trying to innovate or find a new way to attack hitters,” New York Yankees ace Gerrit Cole said. “There’s not really an aspect of his game he doesn’t put a lot of focus into.”
Cole then scrunched up his face and pretended to wipe his nose and forehead like a crazed maniac — in other words, a spot-on Scherzer impression.
“When he gets on a roll and he starts snarling and sweating and doing the super long walk around the infield, I mean, come on, that’s great TV,” Cole said.
Turner has been standing behind Scherzer in meetings on the mound for years. He often has trouble hiding a smile when Scherzer is making his case on the mound. Turner is the ultimate baseball stoic, the opposite of Scherzer in skill set and on-field demeanor. But he, like so many of Scherzer’s current and former teammates, say they get it, that they understand why Scherzer transforms the way he does when he pitches.
“You can’t be just your normal because the level of competitiveness out there is different. You have to reach a new level. And guys do that in different ways, and it comes out in different ways,” said San Diego Padres closer Mark Melancon, a former National. “Some days you’re just not there, as mentally focused or physically able to as much, so you have to do little things different to perform.”
In a sport full of ultracompetitive people, Scherzer’s mind-set is hard for his peers to replicate, his drive difficult to emulate.
Asked once how he deals with doubt when he pitches, Scherzer seemed at a loss for words. He didn’t seem able to think of a time when he wondered. Instead, he talked about the ways he thinks through situations, just trying to find a way.
Even at 36, when time is supposed to take its toll and expectations drop, when all those innings are supposed to whittle away at the stuff that has made him great for nearly a decade, Scherzer does not seem to have considered the possibility that he may not be able to find a way.
“I’ve never seen it,” Turner said. “Sometimes he’ll come back to the dugout and he’ll be confused about how a guy hit a pitch, but never have I seen him doubt himself. He believes in himself more than anybody.”