Max Scherzer and Ryan Zimmerman turn back the clock in Nationals’ win over Dodgers
Let the kids play, whatever.
The two men at the victory podium laughed. “Viejos,” one said to the other. Old men, in Spanish.
The old men forced Game 5. Analytics be damned, the Washington Nationals rode a pair of 35-year-olds to victory. At that age, and in this era, most of those guys cannot even find a job. The Nationals pay for experience, and they were repaid Monday.
Max Scherzer stopped the Dodgers over seven innings. Ryan Zimmerman hit the three-run home run that enabled the Nationals to exhale. The Nationals won, 6-1, to stave off elimination, and they will return to Dodger Stadium to decide this division series in a winner-take-all game Wednesday.
“We’re a bunch of yahoos,” Scherzer said. “We’re old guys. Old guys can still do it.”
“Yeah,” Zimmerman said, “nice way to say veterans.”
“I feel young,” Scherzer said, “and I’m older than you.”
A.J. Pollock, the Dodgers’ big-money free-agent signing, was benched after going 0 for 11 with nine strikeouts in the first three NLDS games.
By two months and one day, yes. The Nationals did not exist when those guys were born in 1984. The Nationals were born in the year Scherzer and Zimmerman hit the legal drinking age. And, thanks to the efforts of two men who are senior citizens by baseball standards, the Nationals will have the chance to advance to a league championship series for the first time.
Scherzer first, since the Nationals turned their desperate eyes to him. They had taken smoke and mirrors as far as they could go. Starting pitchers starting, starting pitchers relieving, relief pitchers flailing, but now the Nationals had to win two elimination games, and they set up to do so the old-fashioned way: Scherzer pitching deep into Game 4, and Stephen Strasburg pitching deep into Game 5.
Strasburg threw his regular bullpen session Monday afternoon, removing the temptation for the Nationals to try to milk an inning from him Monday night. The Nationals were blunt and public about their plan: Scherzer for seven innings, and maybe even the eighth, with Sean Doolittle and Daniel Hudson — the only relievers they trust — available to cover the final two innings.
Justin Turner homered off Scherzer in the first inning, but the Dodgers would not get another run off him. Corey Seager doubled off Scherzer in the second inning, but the Dodgers would not get another extra-base hit off him.
When he took the mound in the seventh inning, he had a 6-1 lead and had retired nine consecutive batters. Seager flied out, but the Dodgers loaded the bases on a single and two walks, and all of a sudden the potential tying run stood in the on-deck circle.
Scherzer struck out Chris Taylor, but it took him eight pitches to do it, and his pitch count hit 107.
“I was just gassed,” Scherzer said. “I was empty in the tank.”
Joc Pederson lined the next pitch over first base, but the drive landed just wide of the foul line. What could have been a bases-clearing double was instead strike one.
“Caught a break,” Scherzer said. “That ball was an inch foul. It could have been an inch fair.”
The next pitch was a changeup. Pederson grounded out, and Scherzer would have the win. He slammed his fist against his glove as he stalked off the field.
“You just can’t say enough about him,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “He just sort of wills his way to getting outs.”
The Nationals have Scherzer under contract through age 37, and he has lived up to his $210-million deal. In the previous three years, he won the National League Cy Young Award twice and finished second once.
As he showed against the Dodgers, he remains one of the game’s elite pitchers. The Nationals will very much look forward to seeing him next season.
Zimmerman could be another story, a sentimental one that could be in its final chapter.
He is the first player the Nationals drafted. In 2005, the year they set up shop here, the team selected Zimmerman with the fourth pick. The top three picks, in order: Justin Upton, Alex Gordon and Jeff Clement.
Clement never established himself in the majors, but Upton and Gordon became All-Stars. Zimmerman did too, but he also is a local kid made good: grew up in nearby Virginia, played at the University of Virginia, played only for the Nationals.
“He’s the face of the franchise,” Scherzer said.
The Dodgers aren’t supposed to be playing in an elimination game this early in the postseason. Will they win Game 5 of the NLDS against the Nationals?
Zimmerman twice passed up free agency, and his $100-million contract expires after the season. His body has betrayed him — he played in a career-low 52 games this season — and it is by no means certain the Nationals will bring him back.
He is acutely aware his career here might last only as long as the Nationals’ postseason run, in part because he is getting older in a sport that is trending younger. The Nationals have Howie Kendrick at 36 — he had two hits Monday — and Anibal Sanchez at 35. But if Zimmerman cannot return here, he might not find a home elsewhere.
“I feel like a lot of people think I’m not going to play more games,” he said. “But I feel good. I feel like I can still be very productive beyond this year.
“That being said, it doesn’t make these games any less meaningful. They still have great meaning. Anytime you make the playoffs, you want to take advantage of it.
“Some people get there a lot, some people get there once, some people never get there. You never know when it’s going to be your last chance.”
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