WASHINGTON — Major League Baseball’s highest-paid player took the mound here Friday night and the surroundings were certainly familiar. Max Scherzer won the 2019 World Series and two of his three Cy Young Awards during his six and a half years with the Washington Nationals, which made it strange for many in attendance to see him pitch for a division rival in visit and be honored with a tribute video. .
But the recent roles of the franchises have reversed. It’s the Nationals rebuilding and the Mets spending big money hoping to build a playoff contender, led by the now 37-year-old Scherzer.
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On Friday, the Mets got the kind of experienced, rugged performance they envisioned when they gave Scherzer a three-year, $130 million contract over the winter. Although he recovered from a minor hamstring injury, despite 11 days between batters facing batters, despite some delays – including a bench clearance incident in the fifth inning triggered by a batting pitch teammate Francisco Lindor in the lead – and despite a few errors on the mound, he guided the Mets to a 7-3 victory in their second game of the regular season.
“He was outstanding,” Mets manager Buck Showalter said of Scherzer, who allowed three runs and struck out six over six innings. Scherzer was also happy with what he was fighting.
“You have to protect your leg in this situation even though I felt like I was 100 per cent and I could go in there,” he said. “But I just didn’t want to risk anything else. You might have an injury in one place, but something else will go on you if you go too hard.
He added: “You can work around injuries and tonight was one of them.”
Scherzer’s departure came with already high tensions between the teams, as some Mets were bothered by the blow-by-blow the team suffered in Thursday’s season-opening victory. The scariest of these came when a pitch hit Mets first baseman Pete Alonso on the lip, with the worst result averted thanks to the helmet flap covering part of his face. Watching from the dugout, Mets right fielder Starling Marte held up three fingers — to indicate how many hits his teammates had received that game — and expressed his displeasure with the Nationals dugout.
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A day later, tensions boiled over at the start of the fifth inning. After center fielder Brandon Nimmo tripled, Marte gave the Mets a 4-3 lead with a brace that knocked Nationals starting pitcher Josiah Gray out of the game. Enter Lindor, who faced off to bunt on the second pitch of the bat against Nationals relief pitcher Steve Cishek.
But the bullet sailed up and down, hitting the c-flap, as it’s called, on Lindor’s helmet. He knocked the helmet completely over and knocked Lindor to the ground. The Mets dugout reacted angrily, with third baseman coach Joey Cora and Showalter yelling at Cishek, who yelled back.
Both benches quickly cleared and pitchers rushed from the bullpen. Players and coaches got in each other’s faces, some holding back and screaming. Juan Soto, a star outfielder for the Nationals, put his arm around Lindor, who had ventured into the scrum.
“I’m proud to be a New York Met,” Lindor later said. “I got hit, I’m on the ground looking up, and the whole team is out there.”
After the players and coaches returned to their dugouts, the referees sent off Cishek because they felt he had escalated the skirmish by not stepping away from the scrum. They also ejected Nationals third baseman coach Gary DiSarcina for making the situation worse.
Just like with Alonso, the c-flap saved Lindor from another injury. X-rays on his face were negative and he passed concussion tests, the Mets said. After the match, Lindor said he was lucky to have avoided a worse fate.
“One of my teeth might be cracked, but not bad,” he added, alluding to his nickname Mr. Smile, “I can still smile.”
After the match, Lindor also revealed that Cishek apologized for the pitch. He added: “They run and run, and they miss their spots. I’m not going to wonder if it’s intentional or not. It’s a game.”
Says Showalter, “Scary, initially. Times like that, the fourth, I don’t really want to hear about intention.
The skirmish came on a day of several delays or interruptions: a 14-minute delay before the first pitch due to problems with the lights at Nationals Park, the bench clearing incident, a rain delay in the ninth inning. Scherzer didn’t let any of it bother him.
He started the second game of the season, not the opener, because of a leg injury that emerged in the final days of spring training. He was the obvious candidate to replace original Opening Day starter Mets ace Jacob deGrom, who suffered a shoulder injury in the final days of spring training that will likely put him out. gap for months.
But Scherzer — whose offseason contract set an MLB record for the highest average annual salary ($43.3 million a year) — still needed a bit more time to recover. And the day before his Mets debut, Scherzer said he felt ready enough to start on Friday and could handle the leg.
Against the Nationals, Scherzer wasn’t at his best but he did enough to recover from his mistakes. With the Mets leading 3-1 in the fourth inning, he spat a single to designated hitter Nelson Cruz. Then, facing first baseman Josh Bell, Scherzer threw a fastball to the middle of home plate and immediately knew he had made a mistake. Bell smashed him into the right-center field seats for a two-hit blast.
But the Mets bounced back right away. Marte put the team ahead in the fifth warm-up and added a two-run single an inning later. Second baseman Jeff McNeil, who homered in the third inning, added a single run in the seventh, giving the Mets and Scherzer some extra wiggle room.
“Just a crazy, crazy experience,” Scherzer said of the Nationals. “It’s almost good that it’s the first. Get rid of it and let’s keep going and keep going. Lots of good memories here, but the team is different.