NEW YORK — A few minutes after Max Scherzer threw his second no-hitter of the season, after his Washington Nationals teammates drenched him in what tasted to him like some combination of beer and chocolate sauce in the visitor’s clubhouse at Citi Field, he sat at a table in a news conference room in a red Nationals T-shirt and his Nationals cap. Both stood out against the royal blue background behind him, which was covered in Mets logos, a fitting snapshot of the complicated context in which Scherzer made history Saturday night with a 2-0 win in the second game of a doubleheader.
No one had thrown two no-hitters in a regular season since Nolan Ryan in 1973 before Scherzer did it Saturday night. No Nationals pitcher had struck out 17 hitters in one game, or nine in a row, before Scherzer did that, too.
“Speechless,” said Scherzer, presented with those facts, already the team’s single-season strikeout king, now the first man in four decades to be so dominant. “You go out there and try to accomplish as much as you can, have as much success as you can, but to be talking about that stuff, you don’t even have words for it.”
Earlier Saturday, Manager Matt Williams faced questions about whether he’d lost the clubhouse. A week before, the team he was supposed to lift to a World Series title was eliminated from playoff contention. Six days ago, one of his teammates tried to choke another. Five days earlier, Scherzer nearly threw a no-hitter. Saturday, he did it, though as he reflected on the moment, the Mets logos behind him served as reminders that while he gave the Nationals one memorable night in October, they were supposed to have far more.
“That’s why this is bittersweet,” Scherzer said. “We wish we were playing longer into October, but we’re not.”
But while the game carried little meaning to the Nationals, Scherzer made it matter. As fiery as ever, stomping around the mound as vigorously as he did against the Mets when they beat him at Nationals Park on opening day, he sucked up the chaos and replaced it with magic, painting a trying final week with a coating of hope.
The Mets did not start their regulars, though they threw them all at Scherzer in the ninth, at which point he had already struck out 15 batters, seven straight. He struck out pinch-hitting Yoenis Cespedes — eight straight, a Nationals record. He struck out Lucas Duda, his 17th of the game, a team record, a career high. Then Curtis Granderson popped out to Yunel Escobar — whose error proved the difference between a no-hitter and perfection — to end it.
“That’s where I had to check myself and say, hey, stay within yourself,” Scherzer said. “Don’t let the intensity, the moment, get too big. Just do what you do.”
Scherzer shoved disappointment away for a night — one that ended with his arms in the air, charging toward Wilson Ramos to do the duo’s handshake, the one they do before each game, the one they did on that warm summer’s afternoon in June. Ramos has caught three no-hitters since the end of last season.
“That was amazing for him,” Ramos said.
That start was the second-best nine-inning performance in baseball history by game score, the metric created by Bill James to measure the strength of a pitcher in an individual game. Scherzer’s 104 was second only to Kerry Wood’s 20-strikeout game in 1998.
The Nationals’ lineup that backed him did not include most regulars, including Bryce Harper, whose 42nd home run of the season lifted the Nationals to a 3-1 win in the afternoon game. Noah Syndergaard hit Harper in the shin with a 97-mph fastball in the sixth inning. Though he hit a two-run homer to right in the eighth despite the pain, he was not able to play Game 2, so he will head to the final day of the season with 42 home runs and 99 RBI.
So without Harper, and resting Jayson Werth, Anthony Rendon and Ian Desmond, Scherzer carried the Nationals. He became the first pitcher to throw two no-hitters as a National, first Nationals pitcher to throw two no-hitters in a single season, and the second to throw one on the final weekend of the season. Jordan Zimmermann did that last year.
No one reached against Scherzer until the sixth, when Mets catcher Kevin Plawecki hit a groundball to deep third. Escobar hesitated, then threw low to first — an error, which ended Scherzer’s chance at a perfect game. Replays showed Scherzer, incomparably competitive, yelling frustrations about the play into the chilly New York air, though the near-40-mph winds swirling around Citi Field almost certainly carried the sentiments Escobar’s direction.
“Just a play that just didn’t get made,” Scherzer said. “Yuni goes out there and competes as hard as anybody. I know that. I’m sure he doesn’t feel great about it.”
But pinch hitter Daniel Murphy grounded out. Then Scherzer struck out leadoff man Curtis Granderson to ensure his no-hitter would last into the seventh, when he struck out the side. Pitch count has threatened his masterpieces before. Saturday night, he had thrown 80 pitches heading to the eighth, plenty left to finish history.
The Nationals’ unfamiliar lineup was not tested much otherwise defensively, no superhuman feats required. It provided enough offensively, too, thanks to Ramos’s sixth-inning sacrifice fly and Dan Uggla’s seventh-inning homer. Uggla was only in the game because Wilmer Difo broke his hand earlier sliding into first. Matt Harvey nearly outdueled Scherzer early, striking out 10 batters in five innings. He left after allowing an unearned run on four hits in six, a brilliant performance that would have been the story on most nights in New York — but not this one.
“I’m proud to be a part of it,” Williams said.
The Nationals will finish this season with a winning record, their win in the first game ensured that. They will also finish with hope and unexpected joy. Disappointment and debacle consumed them this week. Even Scherzer’s unthinkable dominance couldn’t save their season. But for one night, he redeemed it.