First there was Curt Schilling’s bloody sock. And now we have Max Scherzer’s black eye. Both have added color to Major League Baseball’s canvas.
You’ll recall the Schilling incident: With an injured tendon to his right ankle, the righthander pitched the Boston Red Sox to victory in Game 6 of the 2004 American League Championship series with blood seeping though his sock. Then the same thing happened to him while pitching in the World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals. The second bloody sock is now on display at the Hall of Fame.
Scherzer’s contribution came Wednesday in Washington. The righthander suffered a broken nose and a significant right black eye in the batting cage the night before when a bunted ball smashed straight into his face.
There was some initial concern that Scherzer would have to miss his scheduled start against the Philadelphia Phillies. Perhaps he’d be in too much pain. Maybe the swelling around his eye would cause vision problems.
Instead, Scherzer shook off the potential distractions and took the mound. And he turned in another of his classic performances turning in seven shutout innings to lead the Nats to a 2-0 win.
“Trust me, this thing looks a lot worse than it actually is,” said Scherzer, a three-time Cy Young winner. “I felt zero pain. There’s been plenty of other injuries where I felt a lot of pain and I’ve had to pitch through. I’ll hang my hat on those starts, but tonight I felt zero pain. This is part of what you have to do. You take the ball every fifth time.
“That’s my responsibility to the team, to make sure I always post, and I knew I could post tonight.”
Scherzer’s eyes have always been an attraction because he one is blue and one is brown. Things were only more pronounced on Wednesday.
“Going out there and throwing, the only thing I had to deal with was the swelling underneath the eye,” Scherzer said. “It was kind of jiggling around, and so in warm-ups I just had to get used to knowing what it was feeling like to throw the ball and just have that swelling.”
Scherzer threw 117 pitches over seven innings, allowing only four hits, striking out 10 (for the 88th time in his career) and permitting only two runners to reach scoring position. He also struck out the last three batters he faced on a night when his fastball topped out at 98 mph.
“It really is one of the most impressive things I’ve seen in a while,” Washington second baseman Brian Dozier said. “He’s probably the best pitcher in our generation, and you don’t get that status unless you take the ball every fifth day – no matter if you’re doing good, doing bad, you got a broken nose. You always want the ball.”
Scherzer’s opponent on Wednesday was veteran righthander Jake Arrieta. And he was also very impressed with what he saw.
“Max is just one of the best to ever toe the rubber, honestly,” Arietta said.
Washington starter Patrick Corbin knew Scherzer would not back down after being injured.
“It could only happen to him,” Corbin said. “He’ll thrive on it.”
Scherzer is on his way to the Hall of Fame. He is one of the most aggressive pitchers in the game. He is beloved by his teammates and is allowed more leeway on the mound by his managers because of his personality.
“He gave me that facial expression, and he says, ‘I’m good to go,’” Washington manager Dave Martinez said. “He ain’t afraid, that’s for sure.”
Martinez admitted he thought about lifting Scherzer after the seventh inning after he allowed a leadoff double. But he ignored his instincts .
“I didn’t look at him, I didn’t want to look at him,” Martinez said. “That’s his game.
“He was phenomenal. I didn’t think the eye thing was going to be an issue or the nose. And he proved it.”
According to The Athletic, Scherzer’s teammates took advantage of his injuries to have a little fun at his expense. There is a football helmet above shortstop Trea Turner’s locker. And next to it was this handwritten note.
“If you try bunting tonight, PLEASE do us all a favor and wear this. …”
Scherzer saw it and had a chuckle. If he didn’t realize how special his outing was Wednesday, his teammates were certainly going to remind him how much they appreciate what he means to them.
“I love it,” Scherzer said. “If you can’t talk trash on me right now, you never will.”