The Nationals are one loss away from calling it another disappointing postseason. So what to do Tuesday in Game 4 of their National League Division Series?
“Win the game,’’ Nationals right-hander Max Scherzer said. “What else do you want us to do? We’re going to win the game.’’
His adrenaline still pumping after taking a no-hitter into the seventh inning only to see the Cubs scrape together two runs to steal a 2-1 victory in Game 3 at Wrigley Field, Scherzer was visibly upset about coming out after 98 pitches.
Trick hamstring and all, he was nearly flawless before Ben Zobrist drove a fastball away to the gap for a double for the Cubs’ first hit. Protecting a 1-0 lead, Nats manager Dusty Baker went out to check on his two-time Cy Young pitcher, and when he signaled to the bullpen, many in the Wrigley Field crowd gasped.
Scherzer was vocal but would later say that was competitive adrenaline talking, and he backed Baker and catcher Matt Wieters, who also had a say in the decision to go with left-hander Sammy Solis to face Kyle Schwarber.
“I know you guys are going to second-guess, but these guys are here to make that decision,’’ Scherzer said. “I wasn’t going to override anybody. These are pressure-packed situations; they’ve done their homework.
“I was juiced out of my mind with adrenaline. That’s just how it is.’’
Solis, keeper of a 5.88 ERA but better of late, gave up pinch hitter Albert Almora Jr.’s tying single. In the eighth inning, Baker pulled right-hander Brandon Kintzler in favor of left-hander Oliver Perez, who gave up a bloop go-ahead single to Anthony Rizzo. It was another rough playoff day for Baker and another great day for second-guessers.
“Well, it was very difficult, but we thought Max had had enough, especially coming off the injury, and Schwarber is a dangerous man,’’ Baker said. “I probably couldn’t live with myself if Schwarber had hit one out of the park on you, which he’s dangerous to do that.
“So we thought we made the right decision. He got a changeup up to Almora, and they continue to get the clutch hits. We haven’t gotten them yet. But we will.’’
Rizzo’s cheapie that fell among outfielders Jayson Werth and Michael Taylor and shortstop Trea Turner was the difference.
“It was a tough play, three guys converging,’’ Werth said. “From my vantage point, I thought maybe Trea had the best shot, but when I looked at him, he was kind of turned around on it.
“It was in no-man’s-land, a lucky bounce, really.’’
Baker also left himself open to questions about whether walking Rizzo was a better choice in the eighth, or bringing in lefty closer Sean Doolittle. The options were plenty.
“We thought Perez could do the job, and he did the job,’’ Baker said. “It’s just that he found a hole.’’
“We’re right there,’’ said Werth, who has played in 61 postseason games. “Playoff games are crazy. It hasn’t gone our way yet. We have a big one [Tuesday], and if we get the series back to D.C. [with Stephen Strasburg pitching Game 5], I like our chances.’’
Scherzer said he would be available to pitch in Game 5 in relief, saying his hamstring issue has been remedied thanks to a mechanical tweak in his delivery.
“I was able to get the right foot up higher and quicker,’’ he said. “That alleviated stress on the hamstring. I was searching for command during the game, but as it went on, I felt better. The good news is, this injury is behind me.’’
The bad news for the Nats is it might not matter.
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