- - Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Max Scherzer got a nice ovation as he walked toward right field on Tuesday night, where he practiced his phantom pickoff move in front of the bullpen.

The hard-throwing right-hander took the mound for the start of the 89th MLB All-Star Game and got a thunderous applause as he fanned leadoff hitter Mookie Betts of the American League. Scherzer then fanned Houston and World Series star Jose Altuve on three pitches, the last on a 98 mile-per-hour fastball that Altuve couldn’t catch up with.

After allowing a walk to Mike Trout and a single to J.D. Martinez, Scherzer threw a 96 mile-per-hour fastball that induced an infield popout off the bat of Jose Ramirez to end the top of the first inning. The Nationals star threw 16 pitches for the National League in the first inning and then gave up a long homer to left in the second to the Yankees’ Aaron Judge before he fanned Manny Machado, the American League shortstop, and retired the next two batters.

It was the first MLB All-Star game in the nation’s capital since 1969, when the National League beat the American League 9-3. Scherzer gave up one run in two innings with four strikeouts.

“For me you don’t measure yourself against the worst,” Scherzer told 106.7 The Fan. “You measure yourself against the best. For me this is a pride moment. This is a measuring stick moment. Those are some of the best hitters in the game.”

The competitive drive of Scherzer, 33, was evident early on to Danny Hill, who was a senior pitching ace for the University of Missouri when Scherzer was a freshman on the team.

“When knew when he was a freshman he was going to be really good,” Hill, a former minor leaguer with Toronto, said Tuesday. “We didn’t know he would be a three-time Cy Young Award winner. The first time I saw him as a freshman we could see the (ability) on the field right away.”

Dustin Braud, another college teammate with Scherzer, was at Nationals Park for the game Tuesday. Braud recalls being on a rival college summer team in the Northwoods League and his team faced Scherzer after his freshman year of college in 2004.

“I had not seen him for a month. There was a jump in velocity,” Braud told The Washington Times. “He was obviously a good prospect (as a freshman). We were excited he was coming in. It is always good when you plug in somebody like that.”

Hill was the all-star game last season in Miami and has attended other events with Scherzer and some of their other college teammates. “We have a good group thread going (on social media). Some nights he would strike out 12 and we are giving him more props about an RBI or sacrifice bunt,” Hill said.

Nationals manager Dave Martinez said Scherzer would have pitched “six or seven innings” in the game if allowed.

“He just loves pitching. It is huge for the city,” Martinez told 106.7 The Fan.

“There is something special about pitching an All-Star game in your own park,” Nationals principal owner Mark Lerner told 106.7 The Fan.

Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper, batting sixth and playing center field for the National League, came to the plate in the last of the second with one runner on base and struck out against Luis Severino of the Yankees. The Home Run Derby winner on Monday, Harper will be a free agent after this year.

“I’m very serious on the field, I am,” Harper said before the game. “I’m a very serious player. I enjoy the game.”

Machado appears to be headed away from Baltimore in a trade to the Los Angeles Dodgers. National League manager and Dodgers skipper Dave Roberts picked Scherzer to start the game over Mets hurler Jacob deGrom, who came on in the third in place of Scherzer.

“It’s his city. It’s his ballpark,” Roberts said of Scherzer. “My opinion, one of the top pitchers in baseball.”

NOTES: Medal of Honor recipient James McCloughan threw out the ceremonial first pitch. … The Canadian national anthem was performed by members of the Royal Canadian Air Force Band. The U.S. national anthem was performed by community choirs from the D.C. area … The flyover before the game was provided by the Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia Beach. … Harper and Machado both played in the South Atlantic League all-star game in 2011 in Salisbury, Maryland

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