Nationals' Scherzer falls 1 batter short of perfect game, no-hits Pirates
WASHINGTON — As he dug in against Washington Nationals ace Max Scherzer, Jose Tabata had only one thing on his mind.
“I'm thinking of hitting a good pitch,” Tabata said. “That's my job.”
To that point, it was a job nobody else in the lineup had done. There were two outs in the top of the ninth inning, the Nationals were ahead 6-0, and Scherzer was on the cusp of a perfect game.
Eight previous Pirates teams had been no-hit in the franchise's 129- year history. But never has the club been the victim of a perfect game.
Tabata fouled off four pitches and worked a 2-2 count. The sellout crowd of 41,000 at Nationals Park stood and howled for strike three.
“He really battled me,” Scherzer said. “I put some good fastballs up in the zone, and he fouled them off. That's pretty much all I had.”
Another fastball? Scherzer shook off catcher Wilson Ramos. Changeup? Another shake. A slider, then.
Tabata figured a slider probably was coming, and he knew Scherzer liked to fire them inside with movement that tugged the ball back over the plate.
“I was waiting for the slider to break back over the middle, but it stayed right there inside,” Tabata said. “Sometimes you don't have too much time to react. It got me.”
Tabata dipped his left elbow, and the ball clipped his body armor.
The perfect game evaporated.
“It's one of those things that happen, so you focus on what you can do next,” Scherzer said. “Move on to the next hitter.”
Josh Harrison flied out to left, and Scherzer settled for the second no-hitter in Nationals history, a 6-0 victory over the Pirates.
It was the first time the Pirates have been held hitless since Sept. 28, 2012, when they were shut down by Cincinnati Reds right-hander Homer Bailey at PNC Park.
Scherzer (8-5) retired 27 of the 28 batters he faced, striking out 10. He threw 106 pitches, 82 for strikes.
“It's unfortunate to see that happen against us, but I was happy for him,” Pirates left-hander Francisco Liriano said.
Liriano (4-6) pitched 5 2⁄3 innings and gave up five runs and seven hits. He was solid over the first five innings — he allowed only Bryce Harper's solo homer — but wilted in the sixth.
In his previous start — Sunday against the Milwaukee Brewers — Scherzer carried a perfect game through six innings. Carlos Gomez broke it up with a broken-bat single.
Before facing Scherzer, the Pirates watched film of that Brewers game time and again. Manager Clint Hurdle knew his team faced a huge challenge.
“You have to find a way to hit him,” Hurdle said. “You aren't going to beat him with a computer or a piece of paper or a pencil. You've got to take a bat up there and hit him.”
The Pirates hit two balls hard off Scherzer early in the game. Starling Marte drove one to the warning track in right field in the first inning. In the third, left fielder Michael Taylor bumped into the wall as he hauled in Jordy Mercer's smash.
After five innings, Scherzer had a meager pitch count of 55. On a sweltering, 91-degree afternoon, it only looked like he wasn't breaking a sweat.
In the sixth, the Nationals sent seven batters to the plate and KO'd Liriano by scoring four runs. The breakout gave Scherzer time to regroup in the dugout.
“It was pretty exhausting out there. Hot and humid,” Scherzer said. “Guys stepped up and did their job, and that gave me some time to sit in the air conditioning and rest up. Then I felt strong. I felt that I could come with my best fastball for the last three innings. And I was able to get it done.”
There was a close call in the eighth when Pedro Alvarez hit a grounder to the right side. Second baseman Danny Espinosa grabbed the ball and threw on the run to get Alvarez by a half-step.
“More often than not, you see a lot of good defensive plays (in a no-hitter),” Hurdle said. “There weren't really that many today. Scherzer was in command.”
Gregory Polanco fouled out to open the ninth inning. Mercer jumped on the first pitch and flied out.
“Anytime you run through the lineup a couple of times without giving up a hit, you think there might be a chance for (a no-hitter),” Nationals manger Matt Williams said. “But how many times have we seen a blooper or a ball get through?”
Fans groaned when Tabata was hit by the pitch. He didn't appear to do much to get out of the way of the ball, but Williams resisted any urge to protest.
“The last thing I wanted to do was go on the field and mess up Max's rhythm,” Williams said.
Three pitches later, it was over.
“Good for him. He got a no-no,” Tabata said with a wry grin. “That's all I can say.”