- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 20, 2015

When it was all over, Max Scherzer threw his hands forward like two windmills, slapping high fives with catcher Wilson Ramos in quick succession. Teammates streamed onto the field from the bench and the bullpen. The crowd at Nationals Park erupted.

History was his.

After Scherzer threw the second no-hitter in Washington Nationals history in a 6-0 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates on Saturday, the Gatorade bath came first. Then a hug from Bryce Harper, the team’s banged-up superstar. Then the chocolate syrup — lots of chocolate syrup.

“It felt like we had three bottles,” Scherzer said.

A television reporter said he counted six. And he would know — he was wearing some of it.

“Six bottles?” Scherzer replied. “Dear God.”

SEE ALSO: From Section 121, Brad and Jan Scherzer watch their son make history

It was a celebration fit for the occasion. With his parents, Brad and Jan, watching from the stands, Scherzer struck out 10 batters and needed only 106 pitches to complete the game. He took a perfect game into the ninth inning, lost it with two outs, and refocused to make history. It was a lifelong goal, he said, something he’s always wanted to accomplish at the big-league level. And on Saturday, it went to the top of his list of achievements in the sport.

“My last two starts, this is some of the best baseball I’ve thrown, best pitching I’ve done,” Scherzer said. “I just feel like I’m executing all of my pitches.”

Scherzer’s no-hitter was the second in Nationals history and fourth in the annals of Washington baseball. It was a few inches away from being the first perfect game.

With two outs in the ninth inning, pinch-hitter Jose Tabata stepped to the plate. He fouled off two fastballs and worked a 2-2 count. Scherzer knew he should throw a slider in that situation, so he did. But it slipped, grazing Tabata’s elbow, making him the second pitcher in history to lose a perfect game by hitting a batter with two outs in the ninth inning. George “Hooks” Wiltse of the New York Giants did it in 1908.

“I just didn’t finish the pitch,” Scherzer said. “It backed up on me and clipped him. That’s just one of those things that happened. You just focus on what you can do next.”

Video replays confirm that Scherzer did, in fact, hit Tabata. Whether or not Tabata leaned into the pitch, however, was questioned after the game.

“I think that’s irrelevant at this point,” manager Matt Williams said. “The last thing I’m going to do is walk on the field and mess up Max’s rhythm. That’d be a crying shame. I ain’t doing that.”

With Tropical Storm Bill creeping toward the East Coast, the prevailing thought in Washington’s dugout was that Saturday’s game might be delayed because of rain — which arrived during Scherzer’s press conference. The Nationals had no idea that they were a few hours away from history.

In all likelihood, neither did Scherzer. In his previous outing last Sunday, he spun a gem, holding the Milwaukee Brewers to one hit over nine scoreless innings. He was doused with chocolate syrup after that performance, too. He knew how special it was. Duplicating it would be difficult. Outdoing it? Even more so.

But that’s what happened. The right-hander was locked in from the first pitch, which Josh Harrison weakly popped up to second base. He cruised through the first inning on six pitches, and in the second, he needed only nine. Scherzer relied heavily on his fastball in his first trip through the order, throwing only six off-speed pitches in the first three innings.

Then, in the bottom of the third, Scherzer stepped to the plate and single-handedly outdid his counterpart, Francisco Liriano. He blooped a single to right field, giving him more hits on the afternoon than he had allowed. Everything was going his way.

“He was carving,” Harper said. “I didn’t think they were going to touch anything he was throwing up there. I’m sorry, but I just felt that way. The things that he was throwing up there — the 97-mph heater with slider and changeup and painting every single pitch. I didn’t think they were going to touch him. I think his stuff was just that good tonight that not many big league ball players can touch what he was doing today.”

It was a humid evening, and Scherzer said he was sweating profusely. Between most innings, he changed into a new jersey to stay dry. The wet jersey went into the dryer so it would be ready when he needed another one.

As the game wore on, Scherzer was so dominant that even well-hit balls were scarce. He struck out eight batters in the final two-thirds of the game and allowed only seven fly balls, most of them routine.

Perhaps the closest calls came in the eighth inning. Jung Ho Kang hit a towering pop fly to no-man’s land between three Nationals players, but Michael A. Taylor called it at the last second and made the catch. Then, two batters later, Pedro Alvarez hit a sharp grounder to shallow right field, where Danny Espinosa had shifted. He fired to first for the out.

“When it was off the bat, I thought it was just a routine out,” Scherzer said. “Then, I looked up and saw how the shift was played and I realized there was going to be some time to get it. I know usually in that shift, that you have time. Even when you play that deep, you usually have time. I knew if he got to it and threw it, you can get him by a step.”

When the ninth inning arrived, most of the players who weren’t on the field were leaning over the dugout railing. Nobody mentioned what was approaching. There was silence on every swing of the bat. The Nationals could sense that Scherzer was on the verge of something special. Then again, that feeling is not new.

“Every time the guy grabs the ball, he’s on the verge of something,” shortstop Ian Desmond said. “When he goes out to the mound, he’s got the mentality that he’s going to absolutely dominate the other team. We feed off that. We love it. Every time he takes the ball, it feels like there’s going to be something special.”

And when Harrison flied out to left field to end the game, there it was. Perfection had eluded the man with eyes of different colors, one brown and one blue, the man whose $210 million contract was the largest ever signed by a right-handed pitcher. But the consolation prize was plenty.

History, still, was his.

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