MIAMI — Max Scherzer celebrated his 34th birthday Friday night at Marlins Park unlike most pitchers his age. Most in that demographic have seen their performance decline from their younger days. They are usually grappling with the uncomfortable reality of their baseball mortality, adjusting to a diminishing skill set to extend their professional lives.
That is not the case for Scherzer. He is defying age. He is still durable and still perplexing hitters with precision and an overwhelming arsenal of pitches. He is at the peak of his sport, and with his Washington Nationals fighting to remain in the playoff race, he came through again in a 9-1 win at the Miami Marlins.
The right-hander allowed one unearned run on three hits over eight sparkling innings. He held the Marlins without a base runner until the fourth inning and without a hit until the fifth. His 11 strikeouts were the most he has recorded since June 5 and gave him 200 for the seventh consecutive season, tied for the second-longest streak in MLB history with Roger Clemens and Walter Johnson. Only Tom Seaver, who accumulated nine, posted more 200-strikeout seasons in a row.
Employing a lively cutter, Scherzer hit a batter, issued his only walk in the eighth inning and threw 106 pitches.
“Special. There’s really no other way to describe it,” said Nationals second baseman Daniel Murphy, who went 3 for 4 with a walk. “I’ve said it before: I think one day I’ll look back on this time watching Max, and I think he’s so good that you almost take it for granted. I think one day 10 or 15 years from now, he’ll probably be enshrined in Cooperstown, and I’ll tell my son that I got to play behind him.”
The Marlins’ lone run came in the seventh after Mark Reynolds, who is moonlighting at third base while Anthony Rendon is on the paternity list, committed two errors on one play and then misplayed a ball hit by the next batter in the seventh inning.
The victory, the Nationals’ third straight, cut their deficit in the National League East to six games behind the Phillies and 3½ behind the second-place Braves. Philadelphia and Atlanta lost Friday night.
The Nationals (52-51) jumped in front in the first inning against right-hander Pablo Lopez after Trea Turner, who fell a double shy of a cycle Thursday, clobbered a line drive to the right-center field gap for a double and scored on a single from Matt Adams. Juan Soto doubled the output in the second inning with a leadoff, 420-foot missile to the upper deck in right field. The home run was the 19-year-old Soto’s 13th, tying him with Mickey Mantle for sixth all-time for homers as a teenager, and his third in three games.
Scherzer, meanwhile, was breezing. He needed just 17 pitches to get through two perfect innings. He led off the third with a single, went first to third on Adam Eaton’s double and scored on a wild pitch. The hit hiked his batting average to .283. Bryce Harper’s sacrifice fly later in the inning drove in Eaton to give Scherzer a four-run cushion. Scherzer reached base again later when he was hit on the left wrist by a pitch.
“It’s just awesome to watch,” Nationals Manager Dave Martinez said of Scherzer’s offensive exploits. “When he gets a hit, you watch him round that base, and he’s jacked up. He plays the game. I’m sure he got on first base and he was wanting to steal — that’s how he is. But he plays a complete game.”
Scherzer (14-5) finally flinched in the fourth, when he hit Brian Anderson with a change-up to give the Marlins (44-61) their first base runner. J.T. Realmuto followed with a fielder’s choice before Scherzer struck out Justin Bour on three pitches to end the inning.
“Tonight, it was just about as good as I think I’ve seen,” Marlins Manager Don Mattingly said of Scherzer. “He’s pitched good against us at times. But tonight, it didn’t look like he left anything in the middle of the plate.”
Scherzer’s no-hit bid ended in the fifth, when noted Nationals nemesis Martin Prado slapped a slow groundball up the middle, just beyond Turner’s reach, for a one-out single. The hit snapped Scherzer’s longest no-hit bid this season, but he did not wilt. He quickly secured two outs to conclude the inning at 55 pitches. The Marlins didn’t tally another hit until the seventh, when Reynolds was unable to handle Prado’s groundball, which took a tough enough hop to be ruled a hit. Starlin Castro, who had reached on Reynolds’s errors, scored from second to put Miami on the board.
At that point, the Nationals hadn’t scored since the third inning and had squandered opportunities to put the game away. That changed with a five-run outburst in the eighth highlighted by Soto’s two-run triple, which left him a double short of the cycle.
“I was able to throw up zeros each and every time, and that helps keep the offense in rhythm,” Scherzer said. “And any time you keep the offense in rhythm, our offense can explode, and obviously late in the game we piled on runs and we blow the doors open. That’s the makings of a good team.”
With the blowout, the Nationals improved to 8-1 against Miami this season, outscoring it by 34 runs in those nine games. The Marlins have been the medicine they needed with the nonwaiver trade deadline — and the possibility of being a seller if this four-game series went sideways — looming Tuesday. Having an ageless Scherzer, dogged and dominant as ever, didn’t hurt.