For the first time in 18 years we got a World Series Game 7 starting duel worth a damn, and all it took was the first matchup of former Cy Young Award winners to deliver. Max Scherzer and Zack Greinke both entered Wednesday under different circumstances and left with no decision, but they gave us a battle to remember.
Both Greinke and Scherzer are headed for the Hall of Fame once their careers are through. Scherzer is 35, Greinke is 36. Both signed free agent contracts in excess of $200 million. Since Scherzer signed with the Nationals prior to the 2015 campaign, he leads all of baseball in innings, strikeouts, Baseball-Reference WAR and FanGraphs WAR. Scherzer ‘s 79 wins over those last five years rank second only to Greinke’s 82.
It was Greinke who was better in Game 7, pitching scoreless ball through his first six innings. A solo home run by Anthony Rendon gave the Nationals life, then a walk to Juan Soto ended Greinke’s night after just 80 pitches. He was remarkably efficient in inducing 10 ground ball outs, and showed off his fielding prowess — Greinke has five Gold Glove Awards — with five assists of his own.
The runner Greinke left on base scored, charging two runs to his ledger, but it was still a strong start, after a shaky start to his postseason that saw a 5.30 ERA in his first four starts this October.
That Scherzer was even able to pitch at all in Game 7 was incredible. Nerve pain in his neck rendered him unable to even dress himself on Sunday morning, the day he was scratched from his scheduled start. When addressing reporters before Game 5, Scherzer said he couldn’t even raise his arm.
“It became impossible just to do any menial task whatsoever,” Scherzer said Sunday.
A cortisone shot did wonders, and gave Scherzer back the mobility and dexterity needed to average 95.5 mph on his four-seam fastball on Wednesday, topping out at 98.2 mph. He just didn’t have the command.
Scherzer walked four batters in his five innings of work to tie his season high, and faced traffic on the bases in every inning. He allowed seven hits, all of them singles except for a Yuli Gurriel home run in the second inning. It was amazing that Gurriel’s home run stood alone for so long, with Scherzer on the ropes at seemingly every turn.
Houston was 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position until Carlos Correa grounded a ball off Anthony Rendon’s glove at third base for an insurance tally in the fifth inning. Scherzer struck out Robinson Chirinos to end the threat, but at 103 pitches and down 2-0, his night was done after five innings.
But even completing five innings, combined with Greinke pitching into the seventh, gave us starting pitcher length we haven’t seen in any of the previous five Game 7s. This was the first World Series Game 7 with both starters completing five innings since Curt Schilling and Roger Clemens did so in a classic in 2001.
Recent World Series Game 7 starting duels
|2002||Lackey (Angels) vs. L.Hernandez (Giants)||7.0||5||5||6.43|
|2011||Carpenter (Cardinals) vs. Harrison (Rangers)||10.0||5||5||4.50|
|2014||Hudson (Giants) vs. Guthrie (Royals)||5.0||5||5||9.00|
|2016||Hendricks (Cubs) vs. Kluber (Indians)||8.7||6||5||5.19|
|2017||McCullers (Astros) vs. Darvish (Dodgers)||4.0||5||4||9.00|
|2019||Greinke (Astros) vs. Scherzer (Nationals)||11.3||4||4||3.18|
Scherzer gave the Nationals all his body had to offer, first coming back after a rhomboid strain and mild back strain during the regular season and then fighting through debilitating nerve pain in his neck in the World Series. He allowed just eight runs in 30 postseason innings, with 37 strikeouts.
Scherzer and Strasburg combined for a stellar 2.17 ERA this postseason, and recorded 43.4 percent of the Nationals outs in October. It worked to perfection, with Washington winning every one of that duo’s 10 starts en route to a championship.
Both Greinke and Scherzer on Wednesday gave their all under different circumstances. It made for wonderful theater, and in a Game 7 that’s all we can really ask.