Max Scherzer couldn’t get out of bed Sunday morning. He had to fall to the floor and lift himself up with his left arm. His wife, Erica, had to help dress him. Spasms had locked up the right side of his neck. His prized right arm, the weapon the Washington Nationals were depending on for Game 5 of the World Series hours later, was immovable.
Scherzer knew he couldn’t pitch as scheduled, so he called Joe Ross en route to Nationals Park. He told him to get ready. Ross was going to start against the Houston Astros in the most important game in Nationals history with the series tied at two games apiece.
“I’m as disappointed as I possibly can be not to be able to pitch tonight. It’s Game 5 of the World Series,” Scherzer said. “I’ve pitched through so much crap in my career that would be easy to pitch through at this point. This is literally impossible to do anything with.”
Ross has made one appearance in the postseason — a two-inning scoreless effort out of the bullpen in Game 3 of the World Series. The 26-year-old right-hander hasn’t started since holding the Cleveland Indians to one run Sept. 29. He finished the regular season with a 5.48 earned-run average in 27 outings, including nine starts.
He made his only other playoff start in Game 4 of the 2016 National League Division Series against the Dodgers in Los Angeles. He gave up four runs in 2 2/3 innings.
Scherzer, 35, allowed two runs across five innings in the Nationals’ Game 1 win Tuesday. He woke up with the neck spasms Friday. It’s a problem the three-time Cy Young Award winner has dealt with before. The first significant trouble surfaced in August 2017 when he had to leave a start after hitting a home run and pitching two innings. Two weeks later, he landed on the injured list with neck inflammation.
Scherzer said this episode is the most severe. He explained it arose when he woke up Friday. He couldn’t throw Friday but the discomfort lessened Saturday. He played catch. He and the team were confident he could pitch Sunday. The confidence stopped them from injecting Scherzer with a cortisone shot.
Instead, he took the shot Sunday morning. The hope is the pain will subside in 48 hours, meaning Scherzer has a chance to start Game 7 on Wednesday if there is one.
“This is just a little thing that turned into a big thing that turned into a giant thing,” Scherzer said.
Scherzer was in clear discomfort addressing the media. He didn’t turn his neck at all; he spun his chair when a question came from the other side of the room. He said the doctors explained there won’t be any serious, long-term damage as long as he continues not feeling numbness in his arm. Pitching Sunday would’ve presented that risk. He knew he couldn’t as soon as he woke up.
“He’s really upset about it,” Nationals manager Dave Martinez said. “I’ve never seen — believe me — I’ve never seen Max this quiet. He’s very quiet.”