Washington Nationals pitcher Max Scherzer (31) jubilates with his teammates. Photo by Pat Benic/UPI | License Photo
WASHINGTON -- The song "Can't Buy Me Love" by The Beatles played on the sound system at Nationals Park before the finale of a three-game Interleague Series here Wednesday.
It was an ironic selection as a pair of free agent right-handed pitchers who signed with their new teams for a combined $320 million took the mound.
That game pitted Washington's Max Scherzer, who signed with the Nationals before the 2015 season for $210 million, going against Detroit's Jordan Zimmermann, who left Washington to sign with the Tigers for $110 million before this season.
But money was not on the mind at the end of the game for Scherzer, who once again made his fielders mostly superfluous in yet another historic outing a year after he threw a pair of no-hitters for the Nationals.
The St. Louis native, pitching against his former team, tied a major league record with 20 strikeouts as he allowed six hits (two solo homers) with no walks as the Washington Nationals beat the Detroit Tigers 3-2.
"We won and those are 20 punchouts," said Scherzer, when asked what was going through his mind when James McCann grounded into a force play to end the game.
The Nationals scoreboard maxed out, so to speak, since 20 strikeouts is the limit it can show at one time. Scherzer has now beaten every major league team.
"That was an emotional game. I have so much respect for them, how they play and how they compete," Scherzer said of the Tigers. "To have a game like this against that caliber of hitters on that side, it puts a feather in my cap. I respect and admire how they go about their game."
Scherzer joins Randy Johnson, Kerry Wood and Roger Clemens as pitchers who fanned 20 batters in nine innings.
"That is some serious company. It won't sink in right now," he said. "It is an amazing accomplishment."
Said Washington manager Dusty Baker, a skipper for 20 years: "That was the best performance I have seen in person. He was dealing. He was awesome. His fastball was electric."
Wilson Ramos was the catcher for the Nationals on Wednesday, just as he was for both no-hitters last year for Scherzer and one for Zimmermann in 2014. And Michael A. Taylor was a defensive replacement in the outfield in the ninth and he was also on the field for the last out of both no-hitters for Scherzer in 2015 and for a no-hitter by Zimmermann.
"A short night," said Taylor, with a smile.
Said Ramos, via a translator about Scherzer: "He was attacking the zone. The Tigers have an impressive lineup. He was hitting his spots. It was amazing the way he was attacking the zone against a very good lineup."
Said Bryce Harper, who had a quiet night in right field: "The big thing was the crowd was into it."
There was also praise from the opposite dugout.
"Well that's as good as I've seen him and I had him for a year in Detroit. He was dominant out of the gate quite frankly," Detroit manager Brad Ausmus said of Scherzer.
Scherzer gave up a solo homer to J.D. Martinez to start the ninth as the Tigers cut the lead to 3-2. But Scherzer then struck out Miguel Cabrera, allowed a single to Victor Martinez, fanned Justin Upton and got McCann to end the game.
"He got 20 strikeouts today," Cabrera said. "That's special. How many times they do in the big leagues? How many times? Five times. So how many years we've been playing this game? So today was different. Today was special. I've never seen him throw the ball like that."
Washington's Daniel Murphy had his second hit of the game, a liner to left, to drive in the tie-breaking run in the sixth to give the Nationals a 2-1 lead off Detroit starter Jordan Zimmermann (5-1).
But Danny Espinosa hit a solo homer off Zimmermann in the seventh to give the Nationals a 3-1 lead. Murphy doubled in the eighth for his third hit but he was overshadowed by Scherzer (4-2), who allowed just six hits. He struck out 17 last October in a no-hitter at New York against the Mets.
Zimmermann, who entered the game with a league-best ERA of 1.10, yielded seven hits and three runs in seven innings.
"It was fun," Zimmermann said. "Wish we were on the other end of it. Max had his A game today. As you can see 20 strikeouts I think or whatever it was. Really the homer to Espinosa cost us the game. Could be 2-2 and still playing right now but I made one mistake to him and it cost us."
Rendon and Harper had two hits for the Nationals while Martinez had three for the Tigers, giving him seven hits in the past two games. The Nationals (21-13) won two of three games in the series while the Tigers (15-18) lost for the eighth time in nine games.
The Tigers tied the game at 1-1 with a solo homer in the third off Scherzer by Jose Iglesias, who went deep for the first time this year in 96 at-bats and just the seventh long-ball of his career that began in 2011.
Murphy had an RBI single off Zimmermann in the first to make it 1-0 as he drove in Anthony Rendon, who had doubled and gone to third on a hard single by Harper.
Both starters have thrown no-hitters at Nationals Park, but that possibility ended early for both Wednesday. Zimmermann gave up three hits in the first and Scherzer yielded a flare single to left in the second to Martinez. Scherzer now has 37 games in his career with 10 strikeouts or better.
It was the first time since Sept. 12, 2011 that two pitchers who had won at least 70 games for the opposing teams met. Roy Oswalt pitched for the Philadelphia Phillies that night against Brett Myers of the Houston Astros.
Zimmermann entered the game with a league-best ERA of 1.10 while Scherzer entered the contest with a mark of 4.60, and had allowed a season-high four homers in his previous start on Friday in Chicago against the Cubs.
"That is a huge feat," he said of fanning 20. "Strikeouts are sexy."
NOTES: Major League Baseball announced that Bryce Harper has been suspended one game for his actions toward home plate umpire Brian Knight after he was ejected in the ninth inning of Monday's game with the Tigers. Harper plans to appeal the suspension; he started in right field on Wednesday while Knight was the umpire at second base.