- - Thursday, October 6, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION

Bret Boone watches his share of Washington Nationals games since his father, Bob Boone, is vice president of player development.

The former Seattle Mariners All-Star second baseman believes that the Nationals chances for postseason success rides on the right arm — and the shoulders — of Friday’s game one starter, Max Scherzer.

That’s no surprise. But Boone invoked a name that is now spoken with reverence when it comes to post season baseball – San Francisco Giants pitcher Madison Bumgarner.

“The key is Scherzer,” Bret Boone said. “If you want to win, he may have to pull a Bumgarner.”

A “Bumgarner” refers to the Giants left hander’s historic 2014 pitching performance, when he was named World Series MVP after compiling a record of 2-0 with a 0.43 ERA — and one legendary save, five scoreless innings in relief in the series-clinching victory. In three World Series appearances, Bumgarner gave up one run in 21 innings pitched.

In 97 postseason innings, Bumgarner has an 8-3 record with a 1.94 ERA – including, in case you had forgotten somehow how great a playoff pitcher Bumgarner was, his complete-game 3-0 shutout Wednesday night against the New York Mets in the National League Wild Card game, giving him a postseason scoreless streak of 23 innings.

“No one may ever do what he did — that was the most impressive pitching performance I’ve ever seen,” Bret Boone said of Bumgarner’s 2014 postseason outings. “But he (Scherzer) needs to get on that kind of roll. He is capable of doing it. I can tell from watching him that when it is game time, you want to be on his team.”

Someone asked Bumgarner after his Wild Card game winWednesday night why he is so tough in these big games.

“I wish I had an answer for you,” he said. “I don’t.”

His teammate, Conor Gillaspie, who hit the game-winning three-run home run in the ninth inning Wednesday night, answered the question.

“He’s tough, that’s why,” Gillaspie said. “He’s a competitive, competitive guy at everything he does, and it shows not just in baseball but anything in life. I mean, the guy will have a competition with anybody over anything. And those are the kind of guys you want on your club. There’s no doubt.”

That sounds like Max Scherzer. But he hasn’t proven to be so at times in the postseason. In 12 playoff appearances — 10 starts — Scherzer is 4-3 with a 3.73 ERA.

Scherzer told reporters that he learned something about himself and playoff pitching after his first postseason start in game two of the 2011 American League Division Series when he took the mound for the Detroit Tigers against the New York Yankees — don’t hold back.

“That’s the notion,” he said. “Hey this is going to be a big moment, dial it back. And I tried doing that making my first playoff start against the Yankees. I tried to dial it back. And I walked three in the first inning, two or three. It doesn’t work. You’ve got to use the adrenaline and the emotion of the game to your advantage. You’ve got to go out there and be aggressive and appreciate everything that is going on.

“You don’t shy away from this moment,” Scherzer said. “You’ve got to rise to it. And you’ve got to let the atmosphere take you there as well. I’m happy that we have home field advantage and have the home crowd behind me. It’s going to be a heck of an experience.

He may have walked two in that first inning — Robinson Cano and Alex Rodriguez — but they were two out walks, and then he got Mark Teixeira to pop up to second to end the inning. He wound up pitching six innings of two-hit shutout ball in a Detroit 5-3 win over New York.

Scherzer was far worse the last time we saw him on the mound in a postseason game, giving up five runs on seven hits in 7 1/3 innings pitched in a 12-3 loss to the Baltimore Orioles.

“I just left too many pitches up,” Scherzer told reporters after the game. “This is a great-hitting ballclub. You give them a chance to extend their arms, they can really hit it. I’ve got to find a way to get the ball down. I wasn’t quite able to do that tonight, and I paid for it.”

That was game one — GAME ONE — of the American League Division Series, a series in which the Orioles would go on to win in a sweep. Nearly 75 percent of teams that win game one of the division series go on to win the series.

The Nationals go into this series against the Dodgers as the underdogs, with their best hitter’s health, Daniel Murphy, in doubt, their power-hitting starting catcher, Wilson Ramos, out with a knee injury and yet again one of their top starters, Stephen Strasburg, on the shelf with a sore elbow.

What they’ve got is Max Scherzer, a Cy Young candidate with his 20-7 record, 2.96 ERA and 284 strikeouts in 228 1/3 innings pitched, going against one of the best pitchers in the game, Clayton Kershaw.

Scherzer’s manager, Dusty Baker, described his game one pitcher as “brave, bold and a little bit crazy.”

He’ll have to be a lot “Bumgarner” as well to carry this team where it has never been before.

Thom Loverro hosts his weekly podcast “Cigars & Curveballs” Wednesdays available on iTunes and Google Play.

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