Max Scherzer is 35. So is Ryan Zimmerman.
The Washington Nationals would not be headed to a win-or-go-home Game 5 in their NL Division Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers without them.
“We’re a bunch of yahoos. We’re old guys,” Scherzer joked. “Old guys can still do it.”
Sure can. And for a guy whose teams used to lose repeatedly in the postseason, Scherzer sure is delivering now.
Every time he’s pitched this October, the Nationals have won. His latest outing was a season-saving, seven-inning masterpiece that combined with Zimmerman’s three-run parabola of a homer to lift the wild-card Nationals to a 6-1 victory over league-best Los Angeles on Monday night, tying the best-of-five NLDS at two games apiece.
“I was just gassed. I was out,” said Scherzer, who threw 109 pitches. “I was empty in the tank.”
Scowling and muttering to himself as showers fell for part of his gritty performance, Scherzer allowed one run and four hits while striking out nine — and, most importantly for Washington, he prevented LA from closing out the NLDS after taking a 2-1 lead into Game 4.
“He really gave it all he had,” said Anthony Rendon, who drove in three runs for Washington.
With fans who braved rain chanting, “Beat LA!” in the late going, Sean Doolittle and Daniel Hudson combined to get the last six outs for Washington, which will send Stephen Strasburg to the mound against Walker Buehler on Wednesday night at Los Angeles.
“If I could bet, I’d bet on him,” Nationals outfielder Adam Eaton said about Strasburg. “He’s a very good pitcher. A polished pitcher. To have him healthy and ready to go in that situation only boosts our confidence.”
Whichever team advances to the NL Championship Series will face the Braves or Cardinals next. Their NLDS heads to a Game 5 at Atlanta on Wednesday.
Zimmerman showed what he still can do at the plate by taking a 97 mph pitch, the second thrown by reliever Pedro Báez, and turning it into a high-arching 400-foot-plus rainbow that descended onto the green batter’s eye in straightaway center field for a three-run shot that made it 5-1.
“Zim put a really good swing on it,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said.
That was after Julio Urías, LA’s third pitcher and the one charged with the loss, began the fifth by serving up a line-drive single to Trea Turner, who finished with three hits. Rendon, who led the majors with 126 RBIs during the regular season but entered Monday with just one in the playoffs, delivered a run-scoring single that made it 2-1.
Rendon also brought home runs via sacrifice flies in the third and sixth.
That was plenty for Scherzer, who clenched his teeth while getting through his last inning after loading the bases by issuing a pair of walks with one out in the seventh. But he got out of that by striking out pinch-hitter Chris Taylor and getting Joc Pederson — whose liner on a first-pitch cut landed about an inch foul — to ground out.
Scherzer shook his arms and yelled as he stalked to the home dugout.
“You can’t say enough about his compete,” Roberts said. “He just sort of wills his way to getting outs.”
The Dodgers’ lone run came when Justin Turner connected for a no-doubt-about-it homer to left on Scherzer’s 10th pitch, a 95 mph fastball. But from there, facing an LA lineup stacked with a half-dozen lefty hitters, Scherzer displayed the sort of ornery dominance that helped him win three Cy Young Awards.
“He might look like a maniac out there,” catcher Kurt Suzuki said, “but he’s smart.”
Scherzer entered these playoffs on a skid: His teams, Detroit and Washington, had been 0-7 in his most recent seven postseason appearances. But the Nationals won the NL wild-card game last week, which he started; Game 2 of the NLDS, when Scherzer struck out all three batters he faced in relief of Strasburg; and now Game 4.
Scherzer said a Game 5 appearance was out of the question.
“That pushed me all the way to the edge and then some,” he said. “So, yeah, I can’t imagine any scenario where I’m pitching.”
LA’s own three-time Cy guy, Clayton Kershaw, will be available to follow Buehler, Roberts said.
The Dodgers are trying to get to the NLCS for the fourth year in a row, while the Nationals have never been to that round since moving from Montreal in 2005. Washington will be playing in its fourth NLDS Game 5 in the past eight years; the Nats are 0-3 so far, with all those losses at home, including against the Dodgers in 2016.
Zimmerman for so many years was the face of the franchise for the Nationals, who made him their first draft pick 14 years ago. So he’s been through all their highs, including four NL East titles, and lows, including early exit after early exit in the playoffs. He no longer is an everyday player — Game 4 marked his second start of this postseason — and his teammate-mandated dugout dance after his homer consisted of pretending to use a walker.
“He’s been here forever,” Rendon said. “Man, he means everything to this city, to this team.”
This could be a last hurrah for Zimmerman with the Nationals, who hold an $18 million contract option on him in 2020. He insists he’s not thinking about the future, other than figuring that he’ll continue playing beyond this season.
“There’s been a lot of people,” Zimmerman said, “that think these are my last games.”
That prompted Scherzer to pipe up.
“I really don’t think,” Scherzer said, “these are his last games.”
Nationals: CF Victor Robles was out of the starting lineup for the second game in a row after straining his right hamstring in Game 2.
The Game 5 starting pitchers both already have shown what they can do in this series. Buehler allowed just one hit in six innings and got the win in LA’s 6-0 victory at home in Game 1 last Thursday. Strasburg started Game 2 a night later, a 4-2 Washington victory, and took a perfect game into the fifth inning while outdueling Kershaw. Strasburg struck out 10 and gave up just one run in six innings, leaving his career postseason ERA at 0.64 — the best in history for pitchers with at least four starts.
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