Jul 3, 2015, 6:00 AM EDT
OK, so he lost his perfect game bid in the third inning, not the sixth, seventh or ninth like he had the last three times he pitched. And he gave up a couple of runs on five hits, proving himself to be something less than superhuman for the first time in a long time.
Max Scherzer still pitched a whale of a ballgame Thursday night in Atlanta. He struck out nine. He didn’t walk a batter. He took the mound for the bottom of the ninth.
And yet somehow he took the loss after one of the wackier, throw-your-hands-up-in-the-air-out-of-sheer-frustration endings to a game you’ve probably seen in awhile.
Scherzer took the loss because in the ninth inning of a tie game he surrendered an infield single, a sacrifice bunt and a chopper over third base that may or may not have been foul but was ruled fair by an umpire who was trying to dodge the ball while making the crucial call.
It’s hard to conjure up a harder-luck loss than that for a pitcher who did absolutely nothing wrong in the fateful inning yet still found himself walking off the field in disbelief while the Braves celebrated behind him.
First things first: C.B. Bucknor’s call probably was correct. Cameron Maybin’s high chopper probably crossed directly over third base before landing foul well behind the bag. And Bucknor, whose eye was on the ball until he had no choice but to turn his body away to avoid getting hit, couldn’t really have done much else given the situation.
Don’t blame the umpire for this one. Blame the fact instant replay cannot be used on such plays where a fair/foul call is made on a ball that lands in front of the umpire. More than that, blame the odd nature of this play that happens every once in awhile but rarely happens in a walk-off scenario.
Trying to make a fair/foul call on a ball like that is like trying to determine where a punt went out of bounds, even though the ball was 10-to-20 feet up in the air as it crossed the sideline. When you see a football official march off the yards on such a play before settling on an arbitrary spot to place the ball, you know all he can do is make his best guess.
And that’s really all Bucknor could do on Thursday night’s play. How is he, or anyone, supposed to be able to make that call from field level, watching the ball up in the air and trying to figure out how it stands in relation to the base? The only way to know this with any certainty would involve an overhead camera, something that does not exist in this case.
This much we do know: That’s what it took for Scherzer to be charged with a loss during one of the most dominant prolonged stretches of pitching the sport has ever seen.
Consider this: Scherzer has now pitched at least eight innings and allowed five or fewer runners to reach base in four consecutive starts. Only four other pitchers in modern history have ever done that, and only one (Randy Johnson in 1997) has done it since World War II. Over his last four starts, he has struck out 42 batters while walking one.
Scherzer is the first pitcher in Nationals history to go at least eight innings in four straight starts, the first pitcher in the majors this season to do it. He’s also the first pitcher this season to go more than eight innings and be charged with a loss.
As well as he has pitched this year, Scherzer does have a surprising number of losses to his name, six of them now. Despite a sparkling 1.82 ERA, his record is a pedestrian 9-6.
How unusual is that? Well, nobody has finished a season with a sub-2.00 ERA despite a winning percentage of .600 or worse since Gaylord Perry went 24-16 with a 1.92 ERA in 1972. In other words, nobody has ever done that in the age of the five-man rotation.
Given the way Thursday night’s game ended, that probably sounds about right.
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