Max Scherzer guts out a torturous fifth inning and Dodgers win ninth straight
The last out of the fifth inning has been historically difficult for a starting pitcher to register, especially when his team holds a narrow lead.
Why? A starter needs to go five innings to qualify for a win, and until the advent of advanced analytics, the wins category was a primary measure of effectiveness.
No longer. Yet it’s still meaningful to a future Hall-of-Famer with a .657 career winning percentage.
Max Scherzer gutted out a torturous fifth in the Dodgers’ 4-3 victory over the New York Mets on Saturday to record his 186th career victory against just 97 losses and his third win against zero losses since coming to L.A. in a trade July 30.
“I didn’t have great fastball location and I wasn’t able to lay a curveball in for a strike,” Scherzer said. “That [fifth] inning kind of got sideways on me at the end. Things kind of spun out of control. So you just collect yourself and execute the pitches you need to.”
The win was the Dodgers’ ninth in a row and boosted their record to 48-13 against teams with records under .500. They remain 1½ games behind the San Francisco Giants in the NL West because the Giants hit three home runs in the last three innings to come back and defeat the Oakland A’s.
Scherzer sailed through 4 2/3 innings on 78 pitches yet needed 25 to get the final out in the fifth. Brandon Nimmo homered off the right-field foul pole — his third hit of the game — Jeff McNeil doubled, Pete Alonso was hit by a pitch and Michael Conforto walked to load the bases.
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That brought up J.D. Davis and the Dodger Stadium crowd of 44,783 stood and exhorted Scherzer to finish him — and the inning — off. He did, setting up Davis with sliders then getting him to swing and miss at a 96-mph fastball on a 2-2 count. But Scherzer’s pitch count had risen to 103, and he was done.
“Usually when the crowd gets loud, the adrenaline kicks in and brings you to life,” Scherzer said. “Today I didn’t think that would benefit me. I had to stay more composed because my fastball was leaking inside. That’s why I hit Alonso with the pitch.”
Meanwhile, Mets left-hander and former Dodger Rich Hill needed only 71 pitches to get through five, flummoxing hitters with off-speed pitches, including a curveball that hovered around 70 mph.
Three of those pitches ended up in the seats, however, and the Dodgers led 3-1 when the starters departed.
Trea Turner, who had three hits for his fifth multi-hit game in the last six, led off the first inning with his first homer as a Dodger. With one out, Albert Pujols, the oldest player in the major leagues at 41 years, 217 days, stepped in against Hill, the oldest pitcher at 41 years, 163 days.
Yes, it was one for the aged. And it was over in an eye-blink.
Pujols drove Hill’s first-pitch fastball over the right-center field wall for his 15th home run of the season and 677th of his storied career. It was his first home run against Hill in 14 years, when he was a St. Louis Cardinal and Hill was a Chicago Cub.
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“I love looking at the scoreboard when he comes up to bat and read his career numbers,” Trea Turner said. “Nearly 3,300 hits, 660-some home runs. It’s unbelievable.”
Chris Taylor’s homer to dead center in the fourth extended the lead to 3-0 and the Dodgers tacked on one more in the sixth when a leadoff single by pinch-hitter Matt Beaty was followed by three consecutive walks issued by reliever Miguel Castro.
Will Smith, Cody Bellinger and pinch-hitter Justin Turner couldn’t deliver with the bases loaded, squandering an opportunity to put the game away. That regret resounded when reliever Blake Treinen surrendered Alonso’s 28th home run in the seventh — a two-out, two-run shot — tightening the gap to 4-3. They were the first earned runs allowed by Treinen since June 23, spanning 23 appearances.
“Obviously, in that sixth inning we’ve got to be better,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “If we’d have delivered there, we wouldn’t have had to use the leverage [relievers].
In addition to Treinen, that meant Corey Knebel and Kenley Jansen. Knebel retired the Mets in the eighth and it was up to Jansen in the ninth.
He hit Kevin Pillar in the arm to lead off the inning, and Pillar advanced to second on a flyout to left field by Nimmo. Jansen struck out McNeil for the second out, bringing up Alonso, the reigning home run derby champion and the Mets’ only consistent long-ball threat.
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Smith, the Dodgers catcher, looked to the dugout to see if perhaps Alonso would be walked intentionally. Jansen picked at a finger blister. The infielders convened on the mound. Then Jansen went to work, throwing two 95-mph sinkers to get ahead, wasting a slider in the dirt, then throwing a 96-mph cutter slightly above the strike zone to get Alonso on a check swing for his 27th save.
One thing Scherzer doesn’t do well
Scherzer flied out in his only at-bat, making him 0 for 42 this season. He is hitless in 45 plate appearances (he has two sacrifice bunts and one sacrifice fly). And he’s creeping toward a dubious record.
Wei-Yin Chen of the 2016 Miami Marlins was hitless in 49 plate appearances, the major league record of futility for a pitcher. Chen was 0 for 44 with five sacrifice bunts.
Scherzer hasn’t always been a horrible hitter. As recently as 2018, he batted .243 with the Washington Nationals. This season he was 0 for 35 with the Nationals and is 0 for seven since being traded to the Dodgers.
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