- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 11, 2017

Theoretical suggestion can be applied to games like Sunday’s. It goes like this: Since the outcome seems so apparent pregame based on the participants, the opposite outcome is almost assured, the universe working in reverse just to keep everyone awake. This is the reverse-lock theory, a builder of casinos, a damning day for the favored.

It was applicable at Nationals Park. Max Scherzer, two-time Cy Young Award winner, strikeout producer, poster boy, $210 million man, on the mound for the Washington Nationals. Austin Bibens-Dirkx, second career start, the same age as Scherzer, 32, celebrating being here in the major leagues after 12 years in the minors, debuting out of the bullpen May 17.

And, yet.

The Rangers finished a weekend sweep of the Nationals thanks to Bibens-Dirkx junk-balling his way to 19 consecutive outs in one stretch, outdueling Scherzer. The Nationals‘ never-ending bullpen problems contributed to the 5-1 loss, too.

In the midst of another head-shaking day, was a milestone for Scherzer. He turned Nomar Maraza into his 2,000th career strikeout with a 90 mph slider in the fourth inning. Only two pitchers, Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez, have reached the total in fewer innings. Scherzer was pleased afterward as much as he could be, which is to say not much after the Rangers scored four runs in the eighth inning.

“It’s really cool, but, one of these days, I’ll actually reflect upon it,” Scherzer said. “Stings a little bit when you get it in a loss.”

It was an odd day. Not just because Bibens-Dirkx was named the winner and Scherzer the loser. More so the way it happened.

Brian Goodwin hit the second pitch Bibens-Dirkx threw for a home run. Assumptions were quickly being validated that the right-handed journeyman who spent much of 2012 in the Nationals‘ minor league system wouldn’t be much of a match for Scherzer. Instead, he kept throwing cut fastballs, changeups and anything but straight or impressively hard. He wound his way through the Nationals lineup multiple times, surviving through seven innings, lopping almost a run off his ERA in just his second career start.

Bibens-Dirkx’s path to the major leagues is filled with twists. He has pitched for Washington, Texas, Toronto, Colorado, the Chicago Cubs, Seattle, in the Dominican and Venezuelan winter leagues, plus twice in independent leagues. Sunday, he put together a front-porch tale for when his shoulder aches too much and the kids running by ask grandpa about when he threw the baseball: seven innings, three hits, one earned run to earn as many wins as Scherzer has Cy Young Awards, two.

“Everybody’s frustrated,” Scherzer said.

That would include manager Dusty Baker, who again has a bullpen problem on his hands. Scherzer was removed with one out in the eighth inning. Two runners were on, one because of a fielding error by Anthony Rendon on what was internally viewed as a bad hop. Another, Jurickson Profar, because of Scherzer’s lone walk of the day. That meant Shin-Soo Choo, Scherzer’s personal boogeyman, was coming up.

Choo was 12-for-21 in his career against Scherzer, good for a .571 average and plenty head-scratching, before the game began. In the first inning, Choo hit a small fly ball to left field that landed for a hit. In the third, he hit a 98 mph fastball, Scherzer’s fastest of the day, over the wall in center field. Scherzer throws four pitches. Choo saw them all in his first two at-bats. He did not make an out and instead continued his personal bludgeoning of one of the league’s elite pitchers. Baker’s decision to reach into the bullpen was simple.

Oliver Perez entered. He walked Choo on four pitches. That led to Blake Treinen coming in. His first pitch went by catcher Matt Wieters, scoring the go-ahead run. His fourth pitch bounded by Rendon, who was part of the drawn-in infield. Two more runs scores. A sacrifice fly finished Texas’ four-run inning. The fans booed.

“It’s not easy to swallow, but there’s not a whole bunch you can do about that,” Baker said. “That ball (for the triple) had to hit the chalk or be just inside the chalk. Bounding high enough where Anthony didn’t even jump for it. It was a bad weekend. We’ve got to get rid of it. Go get some rest tonight. Come back against the Braves smoking tomorrow.”

Washington has lost four of five. Its bullpen took another blow Sunday when closer Koda Glover went on the disabled list. The Nationals‘ bulky National League East lead is less than 10 games for the first time this month. A miniature slide has followed a high-riding West Coast trip. Scherzer versus Bibens-Dirkx was supposed to level the Nationals off. Instead, it was another checkmark for the reverse-lock theory. Story time will come later in life.

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