Excuse me, excuse me, excuse me, excuse me.
That’s the sound that Blake Treinen and Oliver Perez on Sunday and Koda Glover and Shawn Kelley on Saturday should have made as they left the mound and handed the baseball, sometimes still smoldering, to Washington Nationals Manager Dusty Baker.
But in real baseball, nobody speaks a word at those moments. “There’s not much they can say,” Baker said after Max Scherzer left a tie game in the eighth inning with one out and two men on against Texas and, moments later, watched the game fall apart with a brutal bullpen-implosion in a 5-1 Nats defeat.
“When we get back [to the dugout], there’s not much I can say,” Baker added. “You can only say, ‘Stick with it’ or ‘Hang with ’em’ so many times. After a while, you are just blowing smoke.”
Speaking of smoke, who knew a 10-inch pile of dirt could burst into flames?
I’m sorry. Forgive me. It will never happen again. Pardon me. I’ll do better. Please, give me one more chance.
That’s what Perez and Treinen should have stuck around to say after they let Scherzer’s inherited runners score, plus two more of their own. Slightly more than half the time in such two-on, one-out situations, no runs score at all. And on average, less than one run scores.
Maybe with other pens. As the Human Torch says, “Flame on!” In the District, that’s when marshmallow toastin’ time begins.
Perez allowed an uncontested double steal — you don’t see that much — then walked the bases full. Baker conceded that, because Perez needs a convoluted windup to confuse hitters, he’s almost helpless with two speedsters on base.
Treinen entered and immediately crossed up his catcher for a run-scoring passed ball, then allowed a triple and sacrifice fly as three more Rangers scored.
“Hug ’em. Love ’em. Maybe chastise ’em some, too,” Baker said. “But you don’t kick ’em when they’re down. They are getting kicked enough by [the media] and the fans.” Indeed, Treinen’s exit was greeted with boos.
Neither Perez nor Treinen was available to comment. Whether they left, were in hiding or in suspended animation, this is just part of a bad habit by several Nats, mostly relievers, who sometimes do and sometimes don’t face the music.
What do they probably say in private? My back hurts. My elbow hurts. My shoulder hurts. My ERA hurts. My slider’s flat. My luck stinks. Burn the tapes. Don’t tell my children. Get my wife a double scotch. And leave the bottle, please.
Assuming, at some point, the Nats spend, in dollars and prospects, to get a quality closer, the bullpen probably will come into line. Mediocre-to-good, but not dominant, relievers, which is what the Nats have, tend to be like dominoes. As long as the closer doesn’t topple, the rest may teeter, but they usually stay upright. However, when the closer blows up, then goes on the disabled list as Glover did after Saturday’s loss, the whole row of dominoes tends to fall.
Now, let’s talk about Scherzer. He and co-ace Stephen Strasburg, plus the first seven bats in the Nats’ lineup when they are healthy, are the reason that fixing the bullpen is so important. You have all the pieces for a fine October team — minus that closer. Scherzer showed again Sunday why he’s the center of the Nats’ hopes.
Scherzer, who allowed only three hits and walked one, recorded the 2,000th strikeout of his career against Texas and did it in only 1,784 innings, the third fastest ever. Only Pedro Martinez and Randy Johnson, both in the Hall of Fame, did it faster.
“It’s crazy to hear me even mentioned among those guys. Those are my pitching idols. I’m growing up watching those guys. So any type of mention — I don’t know, it doesn’t even seem real,” Scherzer said.
Recently, Scherzer said, “Strikeouts are my game.” Of course, there’s more than that. But catcher Matt Wieters says that while he’s seen other hurlers with four exceptional pitches, he has never seen anybody who “knows how to locate them and make them [swerve] at exactly the right point to make the hitter chase them out of the strike zone.
“Max can shape the pitch. He knows where to start it so the hitter sees it [as a strike], then where to break it to entice the hitter to swing,” Wieters added.
Much as Washington appreciates Scherzer’s two no-hitters in 2015 and his 20-strikeout game in 2016, it’s possible that even Nats fans don’t sense quite how highly he ranks and where he may be headed.
For 10 years, Clayton Kershaw’s feats have overshadowed every other pitcher in baseball; he’s the Sandy Koufax of this age. But Scherzer arrived the same year. Kershaw has 134 wins, Max 132. Kershaw has 2,019 strikeouts, Max now 2,005. Kershaw has had more innings to do it, 1,850 to 1,788. If Scherzer had not pitched in the American League for seven years, where he had to face a designated hitter, he would have more K’s.
Every fan knows that Kershaw’s 2.36 career ERA sets him apart from everyone else. Scherzer’s is 3.34. But part of that distance between them is illusion. The National League is a pitcher-friendly league. With the Nats, Scherzer’s ERA is 2.79.
“Max is one of the greats, no doubt about it,” Baker said. “How many Cy Youngs does Clayton have? Three. Max? Two.”
And this year, they are close in the Cy Young battle again. Did someone say “bullpen?” Yes, with a better closer, Scherzer might have two more wins.
Outside the home plate entrance to Nationals Park, a three-story-high, full-color photo mural of Scherzer celebrates the “ ’16 National League Cy Young Award winner.” He stands, back turned, the No. 31 and “Scherzer” dominating the image with his hair sopping wet from stalking the mound.
By a lovely accident, a larger-than-life statue of Walter Johnson, who won 417 games, stands just 20 paces from the Scherzer mural. If you strung a string that was 60 feet 6 inches long from The Big Train’s hat, it would touch some part of the Mad Max mural.
If you stand there, you can capture an image of the greatest pitcher in Washington history, who retired 90 years ago and Mad Max in the same frame.
“Ironic,” Scherzer said, with a big grin.
Students of Hall of Fame history know that there are many landmarks that predict whether a player will reach Cooperstown. Scherzer, 32, is very much on track. He may need five more good years, which would roughly sync with his Nats contract through 2021. He has helped pitch one Detroit Tigers team to a World Series. A title on his résumé certainly would help.
Someday, if Scherzer has his wishes, a decision may have to be made about erecting another statue. Having a bullpen behind him sure would help that project.
For more by Thomas Boswell, visit washingtonpost.com/boswell.