The Washington Nationals went into Game 5 of their National League Division Series matchup against the Los Angeles Dodgers with the peace of mind that Max Scherzer was taking the hill. Washington elected to hold Scherzer back in the event a decisive game was played.
He allowed four runs in six innings in Game 1 and suffered a loss, but did settle in after a shaky three innings. On Thursday, the 20-game winner was sharp from first pitch. Scherzer didn’t allow a baserunner until walking Yasmani Grandal to lead off the third inning.
Josh Reddick’s leadoff single in the fifth was the Dodgers’ first hit. Scherzer flummoxed Dodgers hitters with his changeup and protected a 1-0 lead through six innings.
However, that changed when Joc Pederson led off the seventh with an opposite-field home run. Pederson later said he was simply attempting to hit a grounder through the hole, and managed to “get on top of that high spin rate and back spin the ball.”
The pitch was Scherzer’s 99th and last of the night. Pederson’s home run was the start of a four-run inning.
“I gave as good an effort as I’ve ever given in my life to put everything I’ve got on every single pitch,” a somber Scherzer said after the game, holding back the tears in his eyes. “And the pitch I got beat on, I hit my spot. He put a better swing on it. I executed my pitch. He just made a great swing on it.”
Including Scherzer, Nationals manager Dusty Baker used six pitchers in the seventh. That a set a postseason record for most pitchers used in a single inning. Baker defended the decision to allow his ace to start the seventh inning.
“Max said he was still good. We were hoping to get another inning out of him,” Baker said. “If somebody had told me and Max that the guy was going to hit an opposite-field home run, we’d have taken him out then. But how do you take out your guy in a 1-0 game? And Max is capable of going 100-some-odd pitches.”
Although Scherzer is hardly to blame, the Nationals’ loss meant his teams are now 0-4 in elimination games the 32-year-old has started.