WASHINGTON — Max Scherzer knows a lot about his old buddy, Rick Porcello. He’s also been around him enough to know you can’t make mistakes when Porcello is hitting. And after Monday night’s 4-3 loss to the Red Sox, Scherzer knows that more than ever.
Bases loaded. Second inning. Two outs. Scherzer had just intentionally walked Jackie Bradley Jr. to load the bases and create a force at every base. Except Porcello had something else in mind. Like a bases-clearing double to left field on an 0-and-2 fastball.
Scherzer didn’t need that on this sweltering night at Nationals Park before a sellout crowd.
The Nationals had been bad enough of late. They were underachieving again this season amid a host of injuries. They didn’t need to be down, 3-0, because the damned American League pitcher cleared the bases against the best pitcher in baseball. But that’s what Scherzer had to swallow on a night when Porcello and he matched six–inning outings because, quite frankly, with the 95-degree first-pitch temperature, it was amazing either lasted that long.
If Scherzer didn’t take the at-bat seriously, then he sure did in subsequent at-bats when Porcello came up. This wasn’t the way Scherzer wanted to lose a ballgame, but it was precisely the way Porcello wanted to win one.
“They have a lineup that will grind you apart,” Scherzer said. “They foul pitches off. They don’t give in. They have a real professional approach up and down that lineup. It took everything out of me tonight to continue to execute pitches.
“After the third, I was pretty tired but I found a way to dig down and work with Sevy [catcher Pedro Severino] and do what we can to pitch deep into a game and give us a chance. If I’d have gone out after four, you’re putting a lot of pressure on the ’pen.”
As for his sequence of pitches to Porcello, Scherzer said, “I know he can hit. We played together. I’ve seen him hit. Threw him a couple of sliders to keep him off balance and then threw him a fastball up and away and it ran back middle in and anybody can hit middle in. I’ve seen him do it.
“That’s where I have to be better. You have to execute pitches against everybody. Just because it’s a pitcher doesn’t mean you can ever let up. Not saying I did it, but the onus and focus is on every single pitch you have to execute.”
What a mistake it was. Red Sox players were surprised when Scherzer came in with a fastball, but really, why wouldn’t you just blow the pitcher away with a fastball? Nobody should have been surprised.
It was just the perfect storm and Porcello was amped up to face his old buddy and vice versa. It cost the Nats another one-run game. They’re now 8-16 in those situations on the season.
“If you ever look at the bad and always want to beat yourself up and just go home at night and always think about bad plays and the mistakes you make, you’ll never be a better player,” Scherzer said. “This is where the test is when things aren’t going your way, when things are bleak and we haven’t played great baseball, you need to dig down and try to make it right.
“This one is on me tonight.”
Scherzer’s strikeout of Andrew Benintendi to start the fifth inning — his seventh of nine on the night — was a milestone. Scherzer became just the 11th player to strike out 1,000 or more with two teams, joining Roger Clemens, Jim Bunning, Randy Johnson, Mark Langston, Greg Maddux, Mike Mussina, Nolan Ryan, CC Sabathia, Luis Tiant, and Cy Young.
Scherzer, who allowed more than two runs for only the second time this season, is now 10-5 with a 2.16 ERA.
Porcello improved to 10-3 and his ERA fell to 3.57. Porcello allowed solo homers to Anthony Rendon and Daniel Murphy and left the game with a 3-2 lead.
It was the first time the two friends had faced one another and both had commented in advance how much they looked forward to the game.
Porcello, who is four years younger than Scherzer, soaked in Scherzer’s knowledge when they were teammates with the Tigers. They talked pitching constantly and both have commented that those conversations made both of them better pitchers. They both won Cy Youngs in their respective leagues in 2016. Scherzer has won three of them and is maybe the most consistent pitcher in the game today.
Nationals manager Dave Martinez said the whole game came down to two pitches, the one Scherzer threw to Porcello and the one Brandon Kintzler threw Mookie Betts for his solo homer in the top of the seventh that proved to be the winning run.
Porcello and Scherzer likely texted and got together after the game. But this was clearly fodder for future conversations. It’s not often an American League pitcher wins a game with his bat. And that’s something Porcello won’t let his dear friend ever forget.