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Sports 'Expect the unexpected': Nationals in awe of Max Scherzer's gutsy World Series performance days after injury

13:55  31 october  2019
13:55  31 october  2019 Source:   usatoday.com

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' Expect the unexpected ': Nationals in awe of Max Scherzer ' s gutsy World Series performance days after injury . Scherzer , 35, was in a neck brace just a day earlier, receiving therapy twice a day , praying the Nationals would win Game 6. “I don’t think anybody really knew what to expect

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a group of baseball players standing on top of a field: Max Scherzer celebrates with teammates after defeating the Astros in Game 7 of the World Series.© Troy Taormina, USA TODAY Sports Max Scherzer celebrates with teammates after defeating the Astros in Game 7 of the World Series.

HOUSTON — Max Scherzer stood on the stage, grabbed the World Series trophy, hoisted it high in the air Wednesday evening and couldn’t see.

Tears poured out of his eyes, down his cheeks, dripping onto what was left of his Washington Nationals uniform.

This was like a dream, a miracle really, believing 72 hours earlier that it couldn’t be possible.

He woke up Sunday morning, scheduled to pitch Game 5 and couldn’t lift his right arm above his head. His wife, Erica, had to help dress him. She drove him to Nationals Park for a cortisone shot and treatment. It was the most excruciating journey of his life.

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Nationals ace Max Scherzer and Manager Dave Martinez have gone back and forth plenty of times this year as the Scherzer passed a group of reporters and, two days after a doctor’ s diagnosis forced the team to scratch him from Game 5 of the World Series against the Houston Astros, offered

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“Driving out of the driveway going to the park," Scherzer said, “every bump in the road, created level 10 pain in my neck. Every pothole. When they’re doing construction left and right. Not good. Every single pothole was level 10."

The pain was bad enough, but even worse, he believed he let his team down, costing them the World Series championship, and singlehandedly ruining their season. They lost Game 5 in Washington, the game he was supposed to pitch. If they lost Game 6 in Houston, he would have spent all winter wondering what could have been.

So, here he was, pitching perhaps the gutsiest game of his life,  before a 6-2 victory in Game 7 over the Houston Astros.

“I have to give my wife (Erica) a ton of credit for believing in me," Scherzer said. “Because when I woke up the day of Game 5, she saw me. I was a mess. I couldn’t raise my elbow above my head. I felt I was letting the team down. She had to stay in the fight.

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Max Scherzer ' s status to pitch again in the World Series was still uncertain as of Tuesday Scherzer began feeling spasms in his neck and right trapezius muscle a few days ago, but by the time But the Nationals ' pitching plans will hinge on Scherzer and how much he improves over the next two days .

“She said, 'Hey, you could treat it. We know Stras (Stephen Strasburg) is going to deal. You’re going to get Game 7. Let’s go.’

“Even when I was at my worst moment, she had the belief in it. She had this dream as much as anybody."

Is it really a dream, or is it a miracle?

“You can’t really call it a miracle," Nats outfielder Adam Eaton said, “but it will be a reality-TV movie. Come on, how many books are going to be written about this.

“Who gave us a chance? Nobody."

The Nats had to survive a 19-31 start just to reach the playoffs. They overcame five postseason elimination games. They didn’t win a single World Series game at home.

“Look, we could have all been fired," Nats hitting coach Kevin Long said. “That’s why it’s very emotional for all of us, just to know how far we come."

“We fought together, we stayed in the fight," Scherzer said, “and we won the damn fight. We did it.

“The old guys. The Viejos. The old guys can do it. We have the experience. We don’t fold under pressure. We deserve this.’’

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It was only fitting that Scherzer was the one who started the biggest game in Nationals history, symbolizing the heart and soul of this organization.

“This guy lives, breathes and dies with this team," Long said. “He always says this is the greatest team. We know how much it means to him, what this moment means.

“I remember seeing him on the trainer’s table two days ago, I thought he had surgery. He said, 'Sorry, buddy, I can’t do it.’

“Now, to see him out there today, competing, that’s sheer joy for me and all of us."

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Scherzer believed this day would come, or he never would have committed seven years of his life to the organization when he signed a $210 million contract in January 2015. He won two Cy Young awards and cleared a path to Cooperstown. It wasn’t enough. He vowed to lead them to a World Series title. Jump on his back, he told his teammates, and he’ll take them along for the ride.

He has taken the ball every five days, pitching with a broken knuckle and with a broken nose.

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“Pitching through a broken knuckle," Scherzer said, “that was the worst thing in my damn life. I’ve had to pitch through so much worse. Once I was able to get through the adjustments in my neck, get everything aligned, I was good to go.

“I came here to win, we never gave up, and that’s why we’re the ones holding the trophy."

Scherzer says he wasn’t pitching in any pain Wednesday, but even if he was, he wasn’t about to tell a soul.

He’s Mad Max.

One of the toughest and baddest dudes you’ll ever find on the pitcher’s mound.

“What this guy has done, just to be out there, is incredible," Nats trainer Paul Lessard said. “He just wills things to happen sometimes. It’s amazing some of the things he’s gone through this year. The broken nose. He had a broken third finger (in 2018), he starts throwing three-finger fastballs. Everything’s a challenge to him.

“And he’s always up to the challenge."

Scherzer strode to the mound, his nostrils flaring, his eyes glaring, making sure that he would deliver.

It was hardly vintage Scherzer. He didn’t thrive, he merely survived. He gave up a homer to Yuli Gurriel in the second inning. A run-scoring single by Carlos Correa in the fifth. He permitted 11 of the last 23 batters he faced to reach base. He didn’t strike out his first batter until the fourth inning. And, for the first time in 257 consecutive starts – the longest since the live-ball era in 1920 – he walked more batters (four) than he struck out.

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But, man, did he pitch on guts, refusing to ever break, and despite all of the traffic on the bases, all of the hard-hit balls, never once did Nationals manager Dave Martinez or pitching coach Paul Menhart even have a reliever warming up until after the fifth inning.

“Hey, it’s Max Scherzer," Menhart said. “A three-time Cy Young winner. A future Hall of Famer. The ultimate warrior. The greatest competitor.

“Now, the World Series champion."

The hero was Scherzer, who was in a neck brace just a day earlier, receiving therapy twice a day, praying the Nationals would win Game 6, giving him a chance to carry the team on his back for Game 7.

“I don’t think anybody really knew what to expect," Nats closer Sean Doolittle said, “when he took the ball. After what he went through with his neck, you don’t know how that’s going to hold up with his violent delivery. You don’t know what his stamina is going to be like. But with Max, we’ve come to expect the unexpected.

“It was gutsy, man. It wasn’t his most overpowering performance, but it was his most gutsy. He willed us to stay in the game and that was awesome. I know guys fed off it."

Really, it was all they could talk about it after the game. They hugged him on the field. They kissed him on stage. They called out his name while dancing in the clubhouse. They inserted his name while singing the Baby Shark. They drenched him with as much beer as they could find.

“My God," Scherzer said, as Gerardo Parra dumped three beers at once over his head, “is that ever cold.

“And God, does that ever feel good."

Scherzer, 35, started laughing, almost giggling like he was back at a frat house party at the University of Missouri.

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The last time he was at a parade was when the Washington Capitals won the Stanley Cup in the summer of 2018. He grabbed Long, and they hit the streets, celebrating on the parade route like any other fan.

“This is going to be a party," he said. "The party of all parties. The World Series trophy is coming to D.C."

The Nationals believe in old-school scouting, with a healthy dose of analytics. The analytics may say that pitching staffs are best built around bullpens. The Nats believe in starting pitching, and as they proved throughout the postseason, starters can make pretty darn good relievers, too.

“Hopefully, people start spending money on pitching,’’ Scherzer said. “We proved it works. Man, did we ever.’’

Follow Nightengale on Twitter @Bnightengale

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'Expect the unexpected': Nationals in awe of Max Scherzer's gutsy World Series performance days after injury

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