Washington Nationals starting pitcher Max Scherzer (31). Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo
NEW YORK - All Max Scherzer had to do to make the Washington Nationals smile at the end of a trying season was throw one of the most dominant games in baseball history.
Scherzer joined a select club Saturday night, when he threw his second no-hitter of the season - a 17-strikeout, no-walk masterpiece - as the Nationals beat the New York Mets, 2-0, in the second game of a doubleheader at Citi Field.
Scherzer, who no-hit the Pittsburgh Pirates on June 20, is the fifth pitcher to throw two no-hitters in a single season. Nolan Ryan was the previous pitcher to achieve the feat in 1973. Virgil Trucks (1952) and Allie Reynolds (1951) also did it and Johnny Vander Meer threw no-hitters in consecutive starts in 1938.
Philadelphia's Roy Halladay threw two no-hitters in a single season in 2010, one in the regular season and the other in the postseason.
"I'm speechless," the otherwise talkative Scherzer said with a shake of his head upon being informed of the company he's now keeping.
The 17 strikeouts tied Ryan (July 15, 1973) for the most in a no-hitter. His "game score" was 104 - the second-highest in baseball history behind Kerry Wood's 20-strikeout one-hitter in 1998.
"If you want to be a dominant pitcher, you look at what you can control," said Scherzer, who threw 80 strikes among his 109 total pitches."When you're able to get out there and punch guys out and not walk anybody, that's what you have control over. And that's what I'm proud about."
And just like in his no-hitter against the Pirates - when Scherzer retired the first 26 batters before hitting pinch hitter Jose Tabata with a pitch - he missed perfection Saturday by one batter.
Catcher Kevin Plawecki hit a routine grounder to third leading off the sixth, but the throw from Yunel Escobar bounced and first baseman Clint Robinson could not corral it. Plawecki was forced on a one-out grounder by pinch-hitter Daniel Murphy and Scherzer ended the inning by striking out right fielder Curtis Granderson.
The whiff of Granderson began a streak of nine straight strikeouts by Scherzer, who had no trouble carving up a depleted Mets lineup - five regulars were on the bench for the nightcap following a 3-1 loss in the opener - on a cold October evening in which the first-pitch temperature was 54 degrees.
Scherzer went to a three-ball count just twice, both within the first three innings, and allowed only two hard-hit balls - a liner to left by first baseman Michael Cuddyer in the first and a line drive to second base by Granderson in the fourth.
"When you go through the order one time through. you've know you've got something," said Scherzer, who has carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning five times this season. "When you go through the lineup two times through, you know you've got a real shot.
"Knowing that if you can get through seven, then you can really empty the tanks in the eighth," said Scherzer, who whirled off the mound and pumped his fist following the sixth, seventh and eighth innings. "And then you give everything you've got in the ninth."
The Mets gave everything they had left in the ninth, but Scherzer struck out pinch hitters Yoenis Cespedes and Lucas Duda before Granderson, who was once traded for Scherzer, popped up to Escobar to complete the second no-hitter thrown this season against the National League East champions. San Francisco Giants right-hander Chris Heston no-hit New York on June 9.
"He was great," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "We were bad."
The no-hitter was the third in the last 53 weeks for the Nationals, a franchise that went more than 23 years without a no-hitter before right-hander Jordan Zimmermann's no-no on the final day of the 2014 season. All three have been caught by Wilson Ramos, whose sacrifice fly in the sixth inning provided the only run Scherzer would need.
"After a game like tonight, you don't feel tired," Ramos said with a wide smile. "You just feel excited."
The Nationals, who were the overwhelming favorite to win the National League East but are six games behind the division-winning Mets, poured out of the dugout and bullpen to mob Scherzer.
"You don't see it very often, let alone twice," said Nationals manager Matt Williams, who will reportedly be fired following Sunday's season finale. "He's in select company. We're proud of him. He works very hard. And what a way to finish his season."
The no-hitter unleashed the only October celebration the Nationals will enjoy this season. As Williams spoke, champagne corks could be heard popping in the locker room.
"Regardless of the situation, this is pretty cool," said second baseman Dan Uggla, who homered in the seventh. "Just because we're not going to be playing in the playoffs doesn't mean, 'oh, it's no big deal.' This is still just as big a deal as any. So it's really cool and we treat it like that."
Scherzer said he absorbed a beer shower and the locker room was hot and smelled of champagne when it was reopened following his press conference.
"It's been a disappointing season for our team. no doubt about that," Scherzer said. "That's why this is bittersweet. We wish we were playing longer in October. But we're not. From a season's standpoint we were able to accomplish some good things. But it wasn't good enough."
Nobody could say that about Scherzer on Saturday.
NOTES: Mets right-hander Matt Harvey took the loss after allowing an unearned run on four hits and no walks while striking out 11 over six innings. ... Nationals OF Bryce Harper, who was hit in the left shin by a pitch in the sixth inning of the opener but hit the go-ahead homer two innings later, didn't play in the nightcap. Harper, whose homer increased his RBI total to 99, said he would like to reach the 100-RBI milestone. He is also tied for the NL batting lead at .331 with Miami 2B Dee Gordon.