It was a bittersweet moment for Nationals fans when Max Scherzer threw a 3-2 cutter to strike out Padres first baseman Eric Hosmer in the top of the 5th inning of Sunday’s game. On the one hand, it was a special moment for the greatest pitcher in our franchise’s short history. On the other hand, it should’ve happened at Nationals Park in a Nationals jersey.
For 6.5 seasons we were blessed to watch Max take the mound every 5 days. There’s no way I would have been able to truly appreciate him had he not been a National. It wasn’t just his talent that endeared him to our fanbase, it was his grit, passion, and intensity. It was pitching seven shutout innings against the Phillies the day after breaking his nose; screaming obscenities at the training staff to stay off the field after getting hit in the leg; cursing at himself between pitches; stalking the mound after a strikeout; pitching Game 7 of the World Series despite serious back pain. The list goes on and on.
He made 197 starts for the Nats, including postseason. 92 wins, 1,610 strike outs, and a 2.80 ERA. He finished Top 5 in Cy Young voting in every full season as a Nat, winning it in 2016 and 2017. We saw him throw two no hitters and strike out twenty batters in one game. We saw him throw two immaculate innings. We were there to witness him throw 300 strikeouts in a season and start in Game 7 of a World Series that we won. To be denied 3,000 strikeouts as a National just a month and half after trading him seems cruel.
Yes, the trade was necessary given the state of the franchise. But that doesn’t make seeing him in Dodger blue hurt any less. There are some who like to roll their eyes and scoff at the fans who get overly emotionally invested in players. But to me, that’s a big part of the enjoyment of watching sports; to connect with another being and strive for something greater. My heart began racing as I watched Max throw 9 pitches in the second inning for strike outs number 2,996, 2,997, and 2,998. It was the third immaculate inning of his career and a tie for the all-time record.
Of course, Max was going to make the game in which he threw his 3,000th strikeout special, but he wasn’t finished. I was on the edge of my seat after he threw number 2,999 in the third inning and groaning through the fourth as Padres hitters desperately tried to make contact to avoid being the one stuck on the wrong side of history. I smiled as they panned to the crowd and showed his wife Erica and two daughters. It was bit jarring to see them in Dodger blue as well, since the girls had only ever known their father as a National and therefore only worn red.
I felt the emotion prickle behind my eyes as he got Hosmer for number 3,000. The few Dodger fans who showed up gave him a rousing ovation, and he stepped off the mound briefly to give them a wave of his cap. But, in typical Max fashion, he was back to business. His face seemed to say, “we can celebrate this later, but I’ve still go work to do”. And boy, did he put on a show.
We’d already seen an immaculate inning and his 3,000th strikeout, but by the time the fifth inning was over, it was 15 up and 15 down for the Padres. As Nationals fans, we saw him take no hitters into the sixth inning many, many times. At one point in 2018, he had taken no hitters into the 6th inning or later in an insane 15% of his starts as a National. But to do it on the same day you’re chasing 3000? No way, that’d be like a movie. My chest pounded as fly balls were lost and then found by Mookie Betts in the sun. 21 up, 21 down. 6 outs to go.
I’ll admit, I really wanted it for Max. National or not, he’ll always hold a special place in my sports loving heart. So, when Eric Hosmer got revenge for being the 3000th victim and broke up the perfect game with one out in the left, I felt my shoulders slag and the breath leave my chest. I was more upset than perhaps I should’ve been. When they showed Erica in the crowd crying, I felt that in my soul, as many of my fellow Nats fans did as well. It should’ve happened in DC, but it didn’t. But I am grateful that I was able to witness it anyways.
No matter what Dodger fans say, Max Scherzer will always be a National. He’ll go into the Hall of Fame as a National. We were deprived of the chance to witness his 3,000th strikeout in a Nationals’ uniform, but we were lucky enough to see him throw 1,610 in the regular season and 47 in the postseason. So while it was bittersweet and emotionally draining, I’m glad to have witnessed it, regardless of the jersey he was wearing. Because even though it was in Dodger blue, number 3,000 was for all of us in DC as well.