WASHINGTON — Max Scherzer became the 17th pitcher since 1900 to strike out 300 batters in a season, reaching that milestone by fanning 10 in seven innings Tuesday night during the Washington Nationals' otherwise meaningless 9-4 victory over the Miami Marlins.
Scherzer (18-7) lowered his ERA to 2.53 by allowing one run in seven innings as he bids for a third consecutive NL Cy Young Award; he also won the 2013 honor in the AL for Detroit. He threw 70 of his 100 pitches for strikes, gave up five hits and didn't walk a batter.
The righty reached the 300-strikeout mark by getting Austin Dean to whiff on an 85-mph slider at the end of a 10-pitch at-bat for the second out of the seventh. Scherzer pumped his fist while much of the announced crowd of 26,483 — including his wife, Erica May-Scherzer — joined players in the home dugout and home bullpen by saluting the ace with a standing ovation.
Sweating profusely on a muggy, 78-degree evening, Scherzer had all of his repertoire working, from the 97-mph fastballs he threw past Lewis Brinson for strikeouts in the fourth and seventh innings, to the 84-mph changeup that JT Riddle missed for a K leading off the game.
Scherzer now has 10 strikeouts or more in a majors-high 18 of his 33 starts in 2018, and 82 such games for his career.
“Being with him every day in that clubhouse, and watching him prepare on a daily basis, I can see why he's the best,” manager Dave Martinez said. “I mean, he really is. His preparation is beyond anything I've ever seen.”
As is Scherzer's wont, he would stalk around the grass after strikeouts Tuesday. With little else to care about while two eliminated teams played, the fans got into his pursuit of No. 300.
They would chant, “Let's go, Max!” They would rise and cheer when he had two strikes on a hitter. They would emit a collective “Awwwwwww” when a pitch near the plate was ruled a ball — or even when a pitch resulted in any sort of out that wouldn't add to his strikeout total.
Scherzer entered Tuesday ranked No. 1 in the NL in eight significant statistical categories, including strikeouts, strikeouts-to-walks ratio (5.69), opponents' batting average (.188) and innings pitched (213 2/3). He was also tied for No. 1 in two others: wins and quality starts (27).
The expectation is that Scherzer and New York Mets starter Jacob deGrom are the main Cy Young contenders in the NL. DeGrom is 9-9 with a 1.77 ERA and single-season records of 23 consecutive quality starts and 28 starts in a row allowing three or fewer earned runs.
Scherzer allowed a single to Miguel Rojas and an RBI double to Brian Anderson in the fourth for Miami's lone run off him. He threw two more pitches after his milestone strikeout, allowing a single to Magneuris Sierra and getting pinch-hitter Derek Dietrich to fly out on his 100th pitch.
Washington's Anthony Rendon hit a three-run shot in the first inning off Jeff Brigham (0-4), increasing his season totals to 24 homers and 90 RBIs and extending his streak of reaching base to 33 straight games. Rendon added an RBI double in the seventh, when Washington batted around and tacked on six runs.
Bryce Harper scored twice to surpass 100 runs for the season; he already had a career-best 100 RBIs and more than 100 walks.
Harper can become a free agent in the offseason, so Wednesday's series finale could be the 2015 NL MVP's last home game at Nationals Park.