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Column: It’s an instant love affair with Dodgers pitcher Max Scherzer for fans

Dodgers pitcher Max Scherzer reacts after closing out the Houston Astros.
Dodgers pitcher Max Scherzer reacts after closing out the Houston Astros in the seventh inning at Dodger Stadium on Wednesday.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Full house, cheating Astros, desperate Dodgers.

Mad Max was riding Fury Road.

Tattered rotation, stalled season, savior needed.

Mad Max needed to take it Beyond Thunderdome.

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“He’s definitely built for this,” said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts.

He definitely is, and he definitely showed it, Max Scherzer towering over Chavez Ravine on Wednesday night in a Dodgers debut that lived up to every syllable of his nickname.

It was mad. And he was Max.

He struck out the first batter he faced. He struck out the last batter he faced. He ended his night pumping his fist, disappearing into his teammates’ arms, then jumping back out of the dugout to wave to 52,724 of his newest best friends in a roaring curtain call for a breathtaking performance in an emotional masterpiece of a 7-5 victory.

“When the crowd is going nuts like that, you can definitely feed off it … really get some adrenaline from that, so to go out there and pitch well ... ,” Scherzer said. “That’s the first curtain call for me. I’ve never had that happen. That was a really cool moment, something I’ll never forget.”

Mookie Betts hit two solo homer while Max Scherzer had 10 strikeouts in front of a sellout crowd in the Dodgers’ 7-5 over the Houston Astros.

Nor will anybody who witnessed it, this wondrous melding of new energy and abiding tradition in a game that felt like a giant exhale of joy.

If this is who he is, then Max Scherzer is going to be huge.

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Facing the Houston Astros at Dodger Stadium amid a second consecutive night of jeering and banging and anger, the Dodgers needed an unruffled ace.

Scherzer was that ace, allowing two runs across seven innings, surrendering but five hits, walking one and striking out 10.

Seeking a morsel of revenge for those raucous fans who can never forgive the Astros for cheating the Dodgers out of the 2017 World Series — payback that was denied in Tuesday’s series-opening loss — the Dodgers were in dire need of a jolt.

Scherzer was that jolt, allowing a home run on his seventh pitch then settling down to dizzy the Astros with everything from 97-mph fastballs to 86-mph changeups.

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“You’re out there pitching, crowd going nuts, gonna feel some adrenaline, but have to use your mind and stick to baseball instincts and how you want to sequence and attack the hitters,” Scherzer said.

One night after suffering a distracted loss to the Astros in this potential World Series preview, the Dodgers needed the stability of a split.

Scherzer was their rock, setting the tone for a resurgent offense to knock around the Astros — Mookie Betts hit two homers! — and muscle their way to a rejuvenating victory.

“That was vintage Scherzer,” said Astros manager Dusty Baker.

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Dodgers pitcher Matt Scherzer delivers a pitch against the Houston Astros.
Dodgers pitcher Matt Scherzer delivers a pitch against the Houston Astros in the first inning at Dodger Stadium on Wednesday.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

All this, and Scherzer endeared himself to the rocking stadium by winning battles with the three villains from 2017, striking out Jose Altuve three times while fanning Carlos Correa and pinch-hitter Lance McCullers Jr. once.

His average fastball this season was 94.2 mph. His average fastball Wednesday was a full tick higher at 95.2. He knew what the Dodgers needed, and he brought it.

Yeah, Max Scherzer is here, it’s real, he’s real, and the championship-favorite Dodgers just got a whole lot better.

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Scherzer, 37, a three-time Cy Young Award winner, approved the Dodgers destination before being traded here last week from the Washington Nationals with Trea Turner for four prospects in what appears to be a stunning deadline steal.

Translated, Scherzer wanted to be here. He wanted title expectations. He wanted fans who roar with every strikeout. He wanted the pressure.

On Wednesday night, his 6-foot-3 frame hopping off the mound and his fastball roaring toward the corners, he embraced all that heat.

“You live to pitch in front of 50,000 people going nuts,” he said.

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“This is a team that won the World Series last year and that is obviously talented … but there’s work to be done, and that’s why I’m excited to be here and to go out and win,” said Scherzer this week.

At 6:04, the crowd stood and cheered as he walked alone down to the bullpen, such was the anticipation. Soon thereafter, his debut began with a whoosh … but it was followed by a boom.

Facing the incessantly jeered Altuve for his first batter, Scherzer turned the boos to cheers by striking him out flailing on four pitches. Yet three pitches later, Michael Brantley turned on a 95-mph fastball and powered it 385 feet into the right-field corner seats for a home run. It was amazingly the first run Scherzer had allowed in a debut with a team, having previously thrown 18 scoreless innings in debuts with Arizona, Detroit and Washington.

The long ball set off an ominous murmuring among the crowd, especially after Correa followed Brantley with a sharply hit single to center. But then Scherzer took a deep breath and retired the next two hitters, striking out a protesting Aledmys Diaz looking to end the unruly 20-pitch inning.

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Scherzer calmly retired the next seven batters before allowing another run on a pair of singles sandwiched around a groundout in the fourth. Then he cruised to his finish by retiring 10 of his last 12 hitters and ending his work with a whiffing strikeout of Chas McCormick, followed by a fist pump, followed by that curtain call.

“That was amazing,” said Betts, who continued breaking out of his doldrums with two home runs while watching Scherzer from second base. “Being able to see everything and how he works … that was just a great thing to witness.”

This being the first curtain call of his 13-year career, Scherzer said Clayton Kershaw had to basically push him out of the dugout.

“Kershaw said, ‘Hey, give them what they want,’” Scherzer said. “At that point, the crowd was going nuts, I wanted to go out there and tip my hat. I appreciate what they did, they brought an unbelievable energy tonight.”

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How important was this start for a Dodgers rotation that previously had only two trusted starters?

The Dodgers are so desperate for starting pitching that earlier Wednesday they threw a million bucks at Cole Hamels, a 37-year-old left-hander who has thrown three innings in the last two years.

The Dodgers reach terms with free-agent pitcher Cole Hamels, who could provide rotation depth if Clayton Kershaw is slow to recover from a sore elbow.

Yes, he was once a World Series MVP, but that was 13 years ago. Yes, the Dodgers once should have acquired him at the trading deadline, but that was 2015.

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Hamels had been sidelined with shoulder inflammation and fatigue but recently apparently impressed scouts with a 90-mph fastball. Yeah, he’s sort of underwhelming, but again, the Dodgers need help.

On Wednesday, Mad Max showed up, and the relief was palpable.

“I mean, it’s Max Scherzer, that speaks for itself,” said Betts. “You know he’s going to be a competitor and be great.”

“I understand why we’re here. I understand we have a great team,” Scherzer commented this week. “All I can do is go out there and pitch my game.”

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Enough said. Enough done.


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