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Baseball

Max Scherzer Has Been Here Before

The beats of this ALCS are eerily similar to those of the 2019 World Series. Spoiler alert: the Astros lose
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The 39-year-old is familiar with a game like this one. Jerome Miron, USA TODAY Sports.

Max Scherzer is waking up in a Houston hotel room. It’s the morning of Game 7. His body is not right—he’s still recovering from an injury that meant significant disruption to his playoffs. He knows he doesn’t have his best stuff. But he’s going to need to battle through it, because he’s starting a winner-take-all Game 7 against the fearsome Astros and their terrifying lineup. In Game 6, his team’s playoff ace kept Houston down with a dominant performance, staving off elimination and forcing this last winner-take-all matchup. Weirdly, the home team hasn’t won a single game all series. Now it’s on Scherzer to make sure that improbable streak continues, to stamp out the last bit of home-field advantage for good.

The date on this scenario is October 30, 2019. Now, almost four years later, Scherzer finds himself playing out the exact same situation. Only two things have changed: his uniform—he’s a Texas Ranger instead of a Washington National—and the stakes—this is merely the AL Championship Series, not the World Series.

Neither game, we can assume, will feature Mad Max at his best. In 2019, he’d spent several days of the World Series unable to lift his arm. This year, he’s pitched only four innings in the last 40 days, and they stunk. In Game 3 of this ALCS, the Astros connected early and piled on, tagging Scherzer for five runs in those four innings. He hit one batter and threw a run-scoring wild pitch. His slider was a mess. Even the Astros’ outs often came on long fly balls.

Now Scherzer must find that slider in a hurry—in a hitter-friendly ballpark where even good pitchers can watch their efforts sail into the Crawford Boxes.

Here’s the thing: he wasn’t very good in the last Houston Game 7. He walked four batters and struck out only three in that game. He surrendered a home run. The key was that he battled. It was ugly, tortured, and prolonged; he threw 103 pitches in those five innings. His mantra seemed to be “it could be worse.” The home run was a solo shot. The Astros left nine runners on base in his five innings. The second inning ended with runners on second and third; the third and fourth ended with runners on first and second; the fifth ended with runners on first and third.

If he looks tonight the way he looked in Game 3, he’s going to have to recycle that 2019 game plan. Suffer through the bumps, keep the emotions under control, strand as many baserunners as possible, and limit the damage.

In that game, the Nats’ plan was to follow Scherzer with another starting pitcher, Patrick Corbin. Tonight, that part might be played by Dane Dunning or Martín Pérez. (With World Series Game 1 on Friday night, the Rangers will get three days to rest any pitchers they throw tonight if they do gut this out.)

The Nats’ other plan was to attack the Astros’ bullpen. When Scherzer left, his team was losing 2-0, and he was in line for a painful Game 7 loss. The visiting Nats had, according to the computers, a 23-percent chance of winning.

The stage was set for a comeback that played out gradually over three innings. Its signature moment came when a beloved veteran infielder created the one thing his career was missing—a defining moment of playoff heroics. If I can offer Marcus Semien any advice, it’s this: aim for the right field foul pole. It makes a very satisfying “bonk” when you hit it.

Author

Brian Reinhart

Brian Reinhart

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Brian Reinhart became D Magazine's dining critic in 2022 after six years of writing about restaurants for the Dallas Observer and the Dallas Morning News.

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