The Nationals may have lost the NL East war to the Mets, but Washington's Max Scherzer sent a shiver through their bats by throwing a 17-strikeout no-hitter in a 2-0 Washington victory in the second game of a doubleheader Saturday at Citi Field. It was the Mets' fifth straight loss, coming on top of a 3-1 defeat in the first game that marked their only run scored in the past three games.
A crowd of 41,480 rose and tried to urge the Mets to break it up in the ninth, but Scherzer recorded his club-record eighth straight strikeout against pinch hitter Yoenis Cespedes, made Lucas Duda his ninth straight and career-high 17th strikeout overall and capped a phenomenal performance by getting Curtis Granderson on a weak pop-up to third baseman Yunel Escobar.
"He was great. We were bad," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "When you're pitching as good as he was, it's tough to take good swings . . . There wasn't one hanging breaking ball. Every fastball had a purpose. Those guys went up there looking for a mistake and didn't get any."
This was the second time the Mets were no-hit this year, including their loss to the Giants' Chris Heston on June 9. Scherzer became the fifth player in major-league history to pitch two no-hitters in one season. He also no-hit the Pirates on June 20.
But going head to head against Mets starter Matt Harvey made this no-no extra special for Scherzer. "Matt Harvey's a great pitcher," he said. "You know he's going to throw the ball tremendous, and he did tonight. He punched out a lot of guys, too. From that standpoint, you've got to match him. It's almost like a game of H-O-R-S-E."
The Mets still can reach 90 wins if they beat the Nationals on Sunday, but the Dodgers went into Saturday night's game against the Padres needing one win in their final two games to secure home-field advantage in the Division Series against the Mets that opens Friday.
Collins tried to downplay the difficulty of facing the Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke in the afternoon shadows if the first two games are at Dodger Stadium.
"They'll have to see a couple of guys in the shadows who are pretty good, too," Collins said, referring to Game 1 starter Jacob deGrom and either Harvey or Noah Syndergaard in Game 2.
As for the Mets' anemic bats, Collins said: "Not to take anything away from Scherzer, but I just think the focus changes on Friday. We've seen this team grind out at-bats when they have to, and starting Friday, they have to."
When the second game of the doubleheader began, it seemed as if it was Harvey who was on track to do something special. He struck out six of the first seven Nationals batters before Wilmer Difo beat out an infield single. By the end of five innings, Harvey had reached double digits in strikeouts, but when Michael Taylor led off the sixth by reaching on a throwing error by third baseman Kelly Johnson, it marred Harvey's outing.
Clint Robinson's one-out single moved Taylor to third and Wilson Ramos lifted a sacrifice fly to center to give the Nats a 1-0 lead. Their final run came on a homer by Dan Uggla in the seventh against reliever Hansel Robles. Harvey ended his night with his 11th strikeout and finished the regular season with 1891/3 innings pitched, or the equivalent of a complete game beyond his innings limit.
Harvey said that from watching the movement and control Scherzer had on his pitches, "you had the feeling it was going to be a special night. To do it twice in one season is incredible."
At the same time, Harvey was happy with his last two outings heading to the playoffs. "We're right where we want to be," he said. Reviewing his season, he added: "I started really hot and then hit a down point. But finishing strong and going to the playoffs, I couldn't be happier."
Game 1 starter Syndergaard was just as good as Harvey, allowing two hits, including a solo home run by Robinson, and striking out 10 in seven innings.. But Bryce Harper's two-run homer in the eighth against Addison Reed gave the Nats the 3-1 win.
Still Syndergaard expressed his confidence about the matchup with the Dodgers. "We prefer to open up at home just because we've got the best fans in baseball," he said, "but I think we're going to give it to the Dodgers anywhere we are. I'm excited for things to come."