WASHINGTON – Just one strike from a perfect game, Max Scherzer saw it slip away with a misplaced slider. Or, some thought, a misplaced elbow.
Scherzer lost his bid in agonizing fashion, plunking a batter with two outs in the ninth inning before finishing off a no-hitter Saturday in the Washington Nationals’ 6-0 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates.
A letdown? Yeah, a little.
“I mean there is, just because you’re so close, one strike away from a perfect game,” he said. “But to get a no-hitter in front of these fans, there’s nothing better.”
Pinch-hitter Jose Tabata was all that stood between Scherzer and pitching’s ultimate achievement. Tabata fouled off three 2-2 deliveries, then seemed to slightly drop his left elbow and got nicked.
Scherzer grimaced as the ball ricocheted to the ground. The crowd at Nationals Park seemed stunned, too, and surely many wondered whether Tabata leaned into the 86-mph pitch with his elbow protector to get hit.
“He tried to throw me a slider inside,” Tabata said. “The slider, no breaking. I stayed right there, and it got me.”
He defending wearing that pitch.
“That’s my job,” he said. “I got to get on base whatever the situation.”
Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos had a different view.
“His elbow was a little bit in the strike zone. That’s what I saw in the videos. But it happened,” he said.
Scherzer came within one strike of throwing the 22nd perfect game in major league history since 1900.
If anything, Scherzer’s teammates seemed to take the near-miss harder than he did.
“I got down into a squat and … I wanted to cry,” right fielder Bryce Harper said. “To be able to see a perfect game, be a part of that, would’ve been awesome.”
Said Nationals manager Matt Williams: “He hit him with the baseball. It’s difficult when that happens.”
As to whether he thought about discussing the play with plate umpire Mike Muchlinski, Williams said: “I think that’s irrelevant at this point. The last thing I’m going to do is walk onto the field and mess up Maxie’s rhythm. That would be a crying shame. I ain’t doing that.”
Scherzer (8-5) retired Josh Harrison on a fly to left for the final out and was swallowed up by jubilant Nationals near the mound.
“Pretty easy to do,” Scherzer said of keeping his cool. “Probably took two seconds. I realized I lost the perfect game. You just move on. Finish this thing out.”
The 30-year-old righthander struck out 10 in his second straight dominant performance, and was cheered by a crowd of 41,104. Scherzer threw his third career shutout. He had one in 219 lifetime starts before two in a row.
“My last few starts, this is some of the best baseball I’ve thrown,” he said.
This was the second no-hitter of the season. San Francisco rookie Chris Heston did it June 9 vs. the Mets.