If you expected a quality pitching duel between former teammates Jordan Zimmermann and Max Scherzer on Wednesday night, you got your wish. Unfortunately for the Tigers, Max Scherzer left zero doubt who was the man, dominating his former club with a classic performance.
Zimmermann wasn't quite sharp early, but navigated a jam around an RBI single from Daniel Murphy in the first inning. In the third, he came to the plate to a fervent ovation from the Nationals' faithful. Over five innings, Zimmermann kept hitters off balance, working the ball up and down Nationals' bats without anything finding the sweet spot. He dusted Wilson Ramos with a beautiful front-door slider to end the fourth, and through five was scattering cans of corn all over the outfield.
Meanwhile Scherzer was as electric as it gets, striking out 13 Tigers through six innings. The former Tigers' ace schooled his former team with wicked sliders and high-90's heat, and the Tigers looked utterly helpless.
The sole exception was Jose Iglesias, who turned on a pitch at his chin and drove it down the left field line for his first home run of the season, tying things at 1-1 through three. Otherwise there was zero solid contact and a lot of wind generated by the Tigers' bats.
With Zimmermann under a lot of pressure from Scherzer's dominance, a few cracks in the armor finally appeared in the sixth. A leadoff single by Anthony Rendon brought up Bryce Harper, who walked after a ten pitch battle. The red-hot Daniel Murphy flared a single into left to drive in Rendon, giving the Nationals a 2-1 lead. After a careful walk to Ryan Zimmermann, and with his pitch count creeping toward 100, Zimmermann got a double-play ball from Jayson Werth to escape the inning.
After Scherzer sat through a long inning produced by his teammates, he showed some weakness of his own. A one-out single, followed by a double off the wall in centerfield by Justin Upton led to the Tigers first, and only, threat of the night. Brad Ausmus elected not to use Jarrod Saltalamacchia or Nick Castellanos to pinch-hit for James McCann in the Tigers first scoring opportunity of the night. Scherzer said thank you very much, dusting McCann and Anthony Gose with ease to end the threat with his 14th and 15th strikeout of the evening.
The Nationals extended their lead in the seventh, as Danny Espinosa hammered a solo shot to centerfield. Zimmermann's line ended at seven innings, three earned runs, a pair of walks and three strikeouts. Not his best outing, but it was good enough to win most nights.
Meanwhile Scherzer came out in the eighth and punched out Iglesias, Saltalamacchia, who was inserted to hit for Jordan Zimmermann, and Ian Kinsler in quick succession. Scherzer bested his career record for strikeouts in a game with 18. He became the 23rd pitcher in history to record that many. It seemed the only drama remaining at that point was whether he could become the first pitcher to ever rack up 21 strikeouts in a regulation game.
J.D. Martinez, however, had other ideas, immediately crushing a solo shot to left-center to pull the Tigers within one. Scherzer came right back to strike out Miguel Cabrera, number 19 on the night. Victor Martinez singled to put the tying run on-base. Scherzer then proceeded to tie the Major League record by striking out Justin Upton for his 20th of the night, and wrapped up a legendary performance on a James McCann groundball.
Scherzer was incredible. Your faithful recapper had a hard time remembering who to root for.
Johnson.— Neil Weinberg (@NeilWeinberg44) May 12, 2016
Max Scherzer has a 20-K game and 2 no-hitters— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 12, 2016
Only other pitcher with a 20-K game and 2 no-hitters: Randy Johnson
Jordan Zimmermann: He didn't have his best stuff, but Zimmermann's command and pitching IQ were strong as usual. Seven innings, three earned runs, and just three strikeouts, but he gave his team every chance to pull this one out.
Jose Iglesias: The Tigers shortstop cracked his first home run of the season in the third inning when no other Tiger could put the bat on the ball against Scherzer.
J.D. Martinez: One of the few to make hard contact, or any contact at all off of Scherzer, Martinez smoked a solo shot in the ninth.
Victor Martinez: A 3-for-4 night off a dominant Max Scherzer. 2014 Victor Martinez is back in full effect.
James McCann: Three easy strikeouts for Scherzer. McCann was completely overmatched and has been a hole in the Tigers' offense since returning.
Miguel Cabrera: Three strikeouts of his own, and looked completely helpless.
Brad Ausmus: With runners on second and third, and one out, allowing both James McCann and Anthony Gose to face a lights-out Max Scherzer gave away the best scoring opportunity of the night. He then put Salty in to pinch-hit for Zimmermann in the seventh. And then batted McCann in the ninth for no reason any sane person can imagine. NL ball does not agree with the Tigers' manager.
STREAKS AND STATS:
- Iglesias third inning home run was his first since July 17, 2015 off of Ubaldo Jimenez.
- Max Scherzer set a new personal best for strikeouts in a game, ringing up 20 Tigers. No one has ever done better. Nothing but a tip of the hat for the former Tiger. He had no-hit stuff all night and the Tigers were fortunate to do anything at all against him.
WIN PROBABILITY GRAPH: