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Nationals’ Pitching Wizardry Puts Them 2 Wins Closer to Magical World Series

Last Updated September 23, 2020 1:10 PM
David Salituro
Last Updated September 23, 2020 1:10 PM

History often finds a way of repeating itself, and for Washington Nationals pitchers Anibal Sanchez  and Max Scherzer , it did the past two days in the NLCS.

Sanchez & Scherzer toss back-to-back near no-hitters (again!)

In 2013, Sanchez threw six no-hit innings in Game 1 of the ALCS for the Detroit Tigers. The next night, his teammate Scherzer took his own no-hit bid into the sixth inning.

Six years later, Sanchez and Scherzer are teammates again, this time with the Washington Nationals. And again they put on a display of pitching mastery to begin the NLCS that has put the Nationals two wins away from the franchise’s first trip to the World Series.

Sanchez lost his no-hitter with two outs in the eighth inning of Game 1 against the St. Louis Cardinals on Friday. Then, on Saturday in Game 2, Scherzer held the Cardinals out of the hit column until a leadoff single in the seventh inning by Paul Goldschmidt. The Nationals went on to win 3-1 to take a 2-0 series lead back to Washington.

Sanchez and Scherzer are only the second pair of teammates to carry a no-hitter past the fifth inning in consecutive postseason games; they were also the first to do it, back in 2013. Never before in postseason history as a team held their opponent hitless into the seventh in back-to-back games.

Despite coming nine outs away from joining Don Larsen and Roy Halladay as the only pitchers to toss no-hitters in the postseason, Scherzer admitted  afterward his arm felt tired after two appearances in the Nationals’ NLDS victory over the Dodgers.

“I came into this start, it didn’t feel great,” he said after the game. “Really didn’t have my arm slot in the beginning. But then around the fourth or fifth inning, I felt like everything kind of loosened up in my shoulder and I really found my arm slot and I was able to start driving the fastball to locations I wanted. Just worked with (catcher Kurt Suzuki) all day, trusting what he was putting down, staying without our game plan, executing pitches.”

Washington’s unlikely offensive heroes

Michael A. Taylor , the least likely home run candidate among Nationals hitters after just one all season, opened the scoring with a solo shot off Cardinals starter Adam Wainwright in the third inning.

The Nationals went ahead 3-0 in the eighth after Adam Eaton  doubled down the right-field line to bring home Trea Turner and Matt Adams.

Cardinals bats go frigid

The Cardinals, meanwhile, continued the offensive futility that has now put them down two games to none in the series. Since a 10-run outburst in the first inning of Game 5 in the NLDS against the Braves, St. Louis has scored four times in 26 innings. They snapped a 22-inning scoreless drought, the longest in franchise postseason history, when pinch-hitter Jose Martinez doubled over the head of Taylor in the eighth inning. Martinez is now 2-2 as a pinch-hitter in this series; the rest of the Cardinals are a combined 2-55.

It won’t get any easier for St. Louis as the series shifts to Washington for Game 3 on Monday. The Nationals have Stephen Strasburg, with a career 1.32 ERA in the postseason, ready to take the mound.

The Nationals, underdogs all season long after starting the year 19-31, are suddenly in the position of being favorites. With two more wins, they’ll also be able to call themselves NL champions for the first time.