In the latest display of his other-worldly, dominant stuff, former Detroit Tigers All-Star Max Scherzer allowed two runs on six hits in a complete-game effort, and struck out 20 as the Washington Nationals beat the Tigers 3-2 Wednesday night.
The 20 strikeouts were a career-high and Nationals record. He became the fifth pitcher in major league history to strike out 20 batters, joining Tom Cheney, Randy Johnson, Kerry Wood and Roger Clemens. Scherzer struck out 17 last season in his second no-hitter of the year, against the Mets on Oct. 3.
Scherzer knew something was up in November, at former Tigers teammate Austin Jackson’s wedding, when former batterymate Alex Avila — son of Tigers general manager Al Avila — kept asking questions about right-hander Jordan Zimmermann.
“And I kind of put two and two together,” he said on Tuesday. “They want Zimm.”
Soon thereafter, they got Zimmermann, for five years and $110 million.
“So, obviously, they respect what they saw out of him,” Scherzer said.
And what we saw at Nationals Park on Wednesday night was why the Tigers gave Zimmermann that deal and, perhaps, why the Nationals gave Scherzer their money instead of offering a long-term contract extension to Zimmermann the winter before.
Zimmermann returned home — he spent the first six seasons of his career with the Nationals — and Scherzer faced his former teammates. And when they did, the former teammates deadlocked in a pitchers’ duel.
Zimmermann stumbled out of the gate, allowing a run on three hits in the first inning, but settled from there, allowing just a walk and a hit until the sixth inning, when Daniel Murphy broke a 1-1 tie with an RBI single. The Nationals padded the lead on a Danny Espinosa solo home run in the seventh inning.
Zimmermann, who received a standing ovation before his first at-bat of the game and tipped his helmet to the fans, allowed three runs on seven hits over seven innings. He struck out three and walked three.
But while the early noise was made for Zimmermann, the late noise was made for Scherzer, who elevated his game in the top of the seventh inning, after Justin Upton doubled off the center-field fence to put runners on second and third with one out.
Scherzer promptly struck out James McCann, Anthony Gose and then the side in the eighth inning to a standing ovation.
Two home runs — Jose Iglesias in the first inning and J.D. Martinez in the ninth inning — were the only blemishes in his box score.
Scherzer struck out Ian Kinsler, Miguel Cabrera, J.D. Martinez, McCann and Gose each three times. He struck out Cabrera all three times swinging at high-velocity fastballs, on 10 total pitches. The only Tiger he did not strike out was Victor Martinez, who singled three times.
With the win, Scherzer joined Cubs righty John Lackey as the only two pitchers to defeat every major league team.