HOUSTON – It had been a long few days for Max Scherzer — between the neck spasms, and the neck brace, and the nagging feeling that his neck, of all things, might keep him from pitching in the biggest game of his life — so now he did what anyone would.
He stood on the stage, at the center of a World Series celebration late Wednesday, and cried. He cried a lot. He cried while looking at his parents. He cried while looking at his wife. He cried while waving to his friends, because beneath that stage at Minute Maid Park were all the people he wanted to share this with.
He was a champion, finally, adding a title to his Hall of Fame case. But getting there wasn't easy.
"It's an emotional moment because getting to see my friends, getting to see my wife, and all the fight they've been through with it," Scherzer said, pushing back tears, in the hours after the Washington Nationals won it all by beating the Houston Astros 6-2. "And then seeing my parents, you know my parents have had this dream for me, as well. They've been with me my whole life, of having a dream, even when I was a little tyke, dreaming to be a big leaguer.
"And not just dreaming to be a big leaguer, but to be a World Series champion."
Scherzer completed five innings on 103 pitches in Game 7. He worked into jams, worked out of them, and exited the field with the Nationals trailing only 2-0. But what it took for him to keep Washington within striking distance was only known inside the clubhouse and his mind.
The 35-year-old woke up Sunday and couldn't lift his arm. He tried to get out of bed and rolled onto the floor. He soon drove to Nationals Park and every small bump on the drive shot pain into his neck and a nerve above his right shoulder.
That all kept him from starting Game 5, what he called one of the biggest disappointments of his career. But he believed he could return if the Nationals forced a Game 7. And once they did, after Stephen Strasburg's Game 6 gem, Scherzer was in the dugout Wednesday, rocking back and forth, staring into the floor before turning his eyes to the field.
The ace always dials into a certain zone when his starts approach. Yet this looked like a different level. This was why manager Dave Martinez trusted Scherzer to gut out five innings. This was why Martinez didn't call the bullpen, bucking logic, when Scherzer's command shook and his breaking pitches stayed flat. Martinez thought Scherzer could figure it out.
And he did. In his final act of the season, Scherzer left the bases loaded, striking out Robinson Chirinos with a changeup. History soon followed.
"Because he's Max Scherzer, and he's a Hall of Famer," said Nationals pitching coach Paul Menhart, smirking, when asked why the team stuck with Scherzer and didn't have anyone warming up. "And he can will you out if he wants to. He limited them to two runs in five innings with all that traffic he had. That's just him. That's how special he is."
When it was over, those tears began. Scherzer found Anibal Sanchez and wrapped him in a hug. They were teammates with the Detroit Tigers in 2012, in another stacked rotation, on a team that was swept in the World Series. Now they stumbled along the infield grass, doing a half turn, while both repeating:
"We did it. We did it."