Rozner: Cubs find the answer to Scherzer's brilliance

  • Washington Nationals starting pitcher Max Scherzer (31) delivers during Game 3 of the NLDS at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Ill. on Monday, Oct. 9, 2017.

    Washington Nationals starting pitcher Max Scherzer (31) delivers during Game 3 of the NLDS at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Ill. on Monday, Oct. 9, 2017. Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 10/9/2017 8:44 PM

In the first 90 seconds of his postgame media session Monday night, Max Scherzer shook his head more times than he did throughout the entire 98 pitches he fired at Washington catcher Matt Wieters.

His back was pressed up against a fence in a half-lit area which could adequately be described as mostly dungeon, and otherwise partial batting cage with a bit of abstract weight room under the first-base stands.

 

While so much of Wrigley Field has been resurrected as a modern palace, the home team is in no rush to update the 100-year-old visiting facilities.

This was a fitting venue for the embattled Scherzer.

He took his time before answering each question, staring off into the distance, trying to find the right words -- words that might explain what had just happened in the Nationals' crushing Game 3 loss to the Cubs, words that might explain nothing.

Arguably the best pitcher on the planet, Scherzer had pitched a magnificent postseason game at the most important moment of the season.

While Jake Arrieta -- having suffered a similar hamstring injury -- wondered if Scherzer would be able to pitch at all, Scherzer merely discovered in recent days how to engineer a new delivery that would not grab the back of his right leg.

Yes, after a long season and 10-year career in the majors, Scherzer rebuilt himself from the ground up in the hours leading up to Game 3 -- and then no-hit the defending champs for 6⅓ innings.

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"I was able to make a mechanical tweak in how I was able to get off the rubber with my right foot," Scherzer explained. "I was able to get the foot up higher quicker, and able to alleviate the stress on the hamstring.

"I was searching for my command early in the game, but as the game went on I felt better. The hamstring never grabbed on me. The endurance of the hamstring was not a problem."

So you just post a Cy Young-worthy season pitching as you always have, and during a playoff series learn to throw in a different fashion?

"I figured it out when I was playing catch," Scherzer said. "I figured out when it would grab, how to keep it from grabbing. It allowed me to get to my right side better. It allowed me to be mechanically sound and execute pitches."

That, Scherzer was able to explain. The rest, not so much.

Would he have been able to finish that game if healthy? Would the Nationals be up in this series if had been able to start Game 1? Did he think Anthony Rizzo's pop fly basehit that won the game might have been caught?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

All difficult questions to answer.

"That's just baseball, man," Scherzer said. "This game can be great and it can be bad.

"That's playoff baseball. Every pitch matters. Everyone's on pins and needles. One little thing can change a game.

"Today, a ball fell in for them. (Rizzo) did a great job staying through the ball and allowing that to happen."

Scherzer did say he would be fine to pitch in relief if there is a Game 5, and he did defend manager Dusty Baker's decision to pull him in the seventh, when the Cubs came back to tie the game on an Albert Almora single off lefty Sammy Solis after Scherzer had given up his only hit, a double by Ben Zobrist.

It's hard to properly consume anything Baker does during a game, though no Cubs fan is new to this concept.

Still, Scherzer was as ferocious in his defense of Baker as he always is on the mound.

"We were all kind of 50-50 on what was gonna happen," Scherzer said. "We kind of looked at Wieters. Sometimes the catcher can be the deciding factor in how everything's coming out."

Wieters said he didn't cast the deciding ballot.

"We didn't really draw straws," Wieters said. "You know Max is gonna push it. I'm fine either way. Good matchup for us. We know we're gonna get a pinch hitter if we go to the bullpen.

"We made a pitch that was pretty good -- just not good enough."

Scherzer insisted it was the right call, that going to Solis against Almora -- who crushes lefties -- was better than Scherzer against Kyle Schwarber, who is 0-for-4 with 3 strikeouts in the series.

"We kind of looked at it and thought Sammy Solis was the best option for us," Scherzer said. "I know you guys are probably going to second guess that.

"But these guys are here to make a decision. When they made that decision, I wasn't going to override anybody.

"These are pressure-packed situations and they've done their homework to come up with the best scenario in that situation. Dusty has done that for us all year.

"That's everybody on the staff making that decision. They're making the best decision for the team. I understand it. And when they made it, I was behind it."

On the mound, Scherzer didn't seem excited by the move.

"I was just," he said, "juiced out of my mind with adrenaline."

Despite three very close games, any of which either team could have won, the Nationals are once again facing elimination.

So Scherzer was asked how they would approach Game 4.

"Win the game. What else do you want us to do?" he answered, never changing expression. "Win the game."

Even for Max Scherzer against the world champs, it's much easier said than done.

brozner@dailyherald.com

• Hear Barry Rozner on WSCR 670-AM and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.

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