By Michael Marzzacco
The Nationals welcomed the Cubs to DC on Monday night in the biggest series of the year up to this point. With two of the best records in the National League squaring off, there is sure to be an electric atmosphere during each of the three games at Nationals Park. It may only be June but this series could be a potential playoff preview between two powerhouses with fan bases that are starving for a World Series championship.
Max Scherzer took the mound for the Nats and looked locked in from the very first pitch. He struck out all three batters in the first inning. In fact, he struck out nine of the first 10 batters.
The Nationals got on the board in the third when Bryce Harper singled into centerfield. Jayson Werth, already on base, raced from first to third and scored on a throwing error by Dexter Fowler that went past third baseman Kris Bryant.
It looked like Scherzer was going to replicate his start from May 11 against the Tigers, where he struck out 20 hitters which tied an MLB record. Monday, he carried a no-hitter and a perfect game into the sixth inning until it got broken up by a home run by Addison Russell. His solo shot tied the game at 1.
The Nats answered in the sixth. Wilson Ramos hit his 10th homer of the year as the baseball landed just off the reaching glove of right fielder Jason Heyward over the wall. Heyward reached over the fence and had the ball in his glove before it escaped into the hands of Sammy Solis in the Nats bullpen. With Anthony Rendon on base, Danny Espinosa singled to left field to bring Redon home to put the Nats up 3-1. Two batters later, Ben Revere singled home Espinosa with a line drive to right field.
With a 4-1 lead, Scherzer struck out two more batters and left after the seventh inning. He struck out a total of 11 batters for the eventual win, improving his record to 8-4.
It was a redemption start for Scherzer. On May 6th at Wrigley Field, Scherzer allowed seven runs in five innings and gave up four home runs.
“The Cubs have a great team over there. They beat my brains in last time and I wanted to go out there and take my shot at them,” said Scherzer. “Tonight I felt some good stuff with the fastball and all the offspeed pitches were working the way they needed to.”
Oliver Perez worked part of the eighth while Shawn Kelley picked up a five out save to preserve the 4-1 win. The two of them struck out a combined five hitters.
“With a three-run lead I wanted to get ahead,” Kelley said. “I didn’t want to do them any favors or fall behind or try to get this lineup out with hitter’s counts. I try to throw strike one and go from there.”
The Nats improve their record to 40-24 while the Cubs dropped to 43-19. Tomorrow’s pitching matchup will feature Gio Gonzalez (3-5, 3.93 ERA) up against John Lackey (7-2, 2.63 ERA). First pitch is at 7:05.