- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 12, 2017

MIAMI — Max Scherzer promised his standard emotional state would show up Tuesday night in Miami. When he threw a pitch 97.8 mph in the first inning, his second-hardest of the season, he had delivered. Scherzer was revved up to start the 88th All-Star Game for the National League.

Three Washington teammates were in their usual spots behind Scherzer. Ryan Zimmerman, in his first All-Star Game since 2009, stood at first. Daniel Murphy was at second. Bryce Harper took right field after being booed when he was introduced.

The group, as a whole, had an effective evening in the American League’s 2-1 win. Harper singled to left against Boston’s Chris Sale, walked and made a tumbling play in right-center field. His red Nationals hat flew off during the catch. When Harper popped to his knees, he flipped his much-talked-about hair back. From his cleats that showed former Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez, who was killed during the offseason, to the fling of his well-coiffed locks, Harper was his standard notable self on the biggest stage.

Scherzer threw 15 pitches and struck out two batters during his single inning of work. He was unsure after his July 7 start that lasted 120 pitches if he would be available to pitch Tuesday night. He decided he could, but just for an inning.

“I felt like it was in the best interest of the Washington Nationals that I throw one inning,” Scherzer said. “My team is most important thing here and the success of the Washington Nationals is utmost important. I wanted to come out here and start and throw one inning.”

His personal interest did play one part. The new Major League Baseball collective bargaining agreement changed the All-Star Game from deciding which team will have homefield advantage in the World Series back to the hot dog-and-popcorn event it is expected to be. However, that did not slow Scherzer. He spoke only for himself when addressing if the alteration reduced his ambitions in the game. In short, no.

“Your pride is on the line,” Scherzer said. “You want to go out there and show the world you can beat the best. Those are the best hitters in the American League right now. You want to go out there and compete against them and show you can get those guys out. I don’t need anything on the line. I don’t need homefield advantage. I want to go out there and have success against them.”

Scherzer mulls over opponents’ numbers, tendencies and his personal patterns before a regular-season start. His ability to stay unpredictable is a byproduct of preparation and being able to throw all his pitches for strikes. He is able to merge multiple plus-pitches with an intimate understanding of the batter-pitcher tug-of-war.

Tuesday, there was no such preparation. Scherzer spoke before the game, which starting pitchers normally do not do. He didn’t perform any video study or check backgrounds of the American League hitters. Internal buzz replaced the scouting report.

“You don’t need any research,” Scherzer said. “The only thing you need to know is you have adrenaline, it’s flowing and you’re flying. It’s grip and rip.”

Scherzer threw multiple 95 mph fastballs. He struck out Yankees phenom Aaron Judge with a slider, using his commonplace combination of fastball-slider on the outer half of the plate against right-handed hitters.

Stephen Strasburg was the lone Nationals player who did not appear in the game. He said prior to its start that the line drive which hit him July 8 was not as damaging as one that hit him in spring training in February and that this bruise was improving, though he was removed from his last outing because of it. Strasburg said he was available to pitch Tuesday.

Levity occasionally entered the game. Seattle slugger Nelson Cruz handed catcher Yadier Molina a phone to take a photo of Cruz and umpire Joe West when Cruz came to hit. Harper talked live to television announcers Joe Buck and John Smoltz while in right field. He asked Buck how he thought Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott would do this season.

The actual baseball was decided by game MVP Robinson Cano. He hit Wade Davis’ hanging curveball into the right field stands to open the 10th inning. Cano was just the fourth player in All-Star Game history to hit a home run in extra innings. Cincinnati’s Tony Perez in 1967, St. Louis’ Stan Musial in 1955 and the Cardinals’ Red Schoendienst in 1950 were the others.

Cleveland’s Andrew Miller allowed a walk in the bottom of the 10th before ending the game 3:16 after it started with a Scherzer fastball.

The length of the game, which was right in line with the average length of game this season, did not deter Murphy or Harper after they were removed from lineup. Both stayed to watch, laugh and discuss baseball. Murphy said he chatted with San Francisco catcher Buster Posey. Harper talked to another left-handed hitter — he didn’t say whom — about facing a specific left-handed pitcher. When the National League had the winning run on third in the bottom of the ninth, Harper even popped out his cell phone, prepared for the would-be winning moment.

“I think being able to talk to some of the best players in baseball, have some fun, it’s what it’s all about,” Harper said.

Strasburg, Murphy, Zimmerman and Harper shoveled their belongings into cardboard boxes marked with their names once the night ended. The fun is over. Friday, they start the final 74 games of the season with four games in Cincinnati.

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