PHILADELPHIA — For more than five innings Friday night, Max Scherzer gave credibility to an absurd notion. He allowed the curious masses to commence with the expectation that he would throw a no-hitter — again — as if such pitching brilliance could be ordered from a menu.
It was a laughably good time. Scherzer is that kind of good, so insanely gifted and so in a groove that you giggle when trying to make sense of his feats. For 16 outs, no joke about perfection was too ludicrous for Scherzer. For 54 pitches thrown with the flair of an artist in concert, Scherzer followed up last Saturday’s no-hitter, and the previous week’s one-hitter, with another start that made the sports world stand still.
Then, with one out in the bottom of the sixth inning, the most transparent no-hit bid ever ended when Philadelphia shortstop Freddy Galvis lined a 1-1 pitch down the right field line. Galvis hammered a hanging curveball. It bounced once, hit the wall, and right fielder Matt den Dekker scurried over to retrieve the baseball and limit Galvis to a double.
It would’ve been sad if it weren’t so shocking.
“I just feel like every time he goes out here, he’s going to be perfect,” the 27-year-old den Dekker said without an ounce of the typical, seen-it-all baseball player machismo.
For the first time in three starts, a span of 23
Scherzer accepted the reality quickly.
“I made a mistake, and eventually, I was going to run out of luck there,” he said late Friday night after earning his 100th career victory and leading the Washington Nationals to their seventh straight win, 5-2, over Philadelphia. “Is it a letdown? Yes. But at the same time, your focus is to win ballgames.”
Perhaps a Cincinnati Reds fan should deliver flowers to Johnny Vander Meer’s grave now. Vander Meer, who threw back-to-back no-hitters in 1938, remains the only pitcher in major league history to do so.
“Unbelievable feat,” Scherzer said. “It just seems so improbable to be able to do that.”
If it’s improbable for Scherzer, it’s impossible for every other mortal. He’ll continue to do amazing things over the course of this seven-year contract with the Nationals. But this three-start stretch is something to be cherished. It’s a level of dominance that sets a new standard, at least for three starts in the regular season, for all of baseball’s great starting pitchers.
Felix Hernandez, Clayton Kershaw, Madison Bumgarner — they should all stand in admiration.
Naturally, Scherzer continued his amazing run Friday night at a most important time. Nationals Manager Matt Williams had to use an unusual lineup because of injuries. Second baseman Anthony Rendon went on the 15-day disabled list with a left quadriceps strain. Bryce Harper missed his second straight game with a right leg injury. Denard Span couldn’t play because of a back spasm. Third baseman Yunel Escobar left the game early after Aaron Harang hit him in the hand with a pitch in the first inning.
Nevertheless, the Nationals scored five runs and looked like a good team. It helps that they were playing the Phillies (26-49) on a day when Manager Ryne Sandberg resigned. But when Scherzer is on the mound, an opportunity always exists to play like one of the best teams in baseball.
“It’s no fun to play like that,” Williams said of having to work around the injuries, “but it certainly helps when Max is on the mound.”
Well, Scherzer is hittable again. After flirting with perfection into the sixth inning, he went on to give up two runs and five hits. He ended the scoreless streak of the Nationals’ starting pitchers at 48 innings, the second-longest such streak ever. He even gave up a home run to some 5-foot-9 kid named Ben Revere. But Scherzer was special, as usual.
He doesn’t need perfection (or near perfection) to be ideal. Even on a night when he makes a few mistakes and allows a few runs, you’re left to marvel at how good he is.
Consider this: Scherzer chased history for most of the night at Citzens Bank Park, but he wound up exiting the game with a higher earned-run average on the season despite throwing eight spectacular innings. He came in with a 1.76 ERA. Giving up those two runs raised it to 1.79. Sometimes, magnificence isn’t magnificent enough for him.
“It’s special to watch,” den Dekker said. “I haven’t been around a pitcher in my time in the big leagues as focused as he is.”
Now that the streak is over, you’re left to wonder what Scherzer will do for an encore. Or if there even needs to be an encore. Duplication isn’t likely because, as Williams cautioned, “We know in this game nothing is automatic.”
After Scherzer’s past three starts, however, your imagination is free to roam.
For more by Jerry Brewer, visit washingtonpost.com/brewer.