ST. LOUIS — Baseball is all about coming home.
When you come home and pitch a gem in the NLCS, it’s even better.
Max Scherzer came back to his home state of Missouri and shut down the Cardinals’ bats in much the same way his Nationals teammate, Anibal Sanchez, did in Game 1.
Sanchez did not allow a hit until there were two outs in the eighth inning of the Nationals’ Game 1 win over the Cardinals on Friday at Busch Stadium.
Scherzer did not allow a hit until Paul Goldschmidt lined a single to right to lead off the seventh inning in the Nationals’ 3-1 win over the Cardinals on Saturday as Washington took a 2-0 lead in the NLCS.
Scherzer easily got through the seventh with a strikeout of Marcell Ozuna and induced a double-play grounder from Yadier Molina, who is 1-for-20 against Scherzer over his career.The Nationals, who had never won a postseason series before beating the Dodgers in the NLDS, can close out the Cardinals with two more wins as the series switches to Washington starting Monday.
Closer Daniel Hudson, who missed Game 1 because his wife Sara gave birth to their third daughter, Millie, returned to the team and came on for the two-out save in the ninth.
Hudson had the full support of his team as he returned to do his job on Saturday.
It does not get any easier for the Cardinals, whose bats have died after putting up that 10-run first inning in their Game 5 NLDS win over the Braves at SunTrust Park. Stephen Strasburg goes Monday for the Nationals against Cardinals ace Jack Flaherty.
Scherzer, who went to Parkway Central High School in Chesterfield, Mo. (about 20 miles from St. Louis) and the University of Missouri, came in with a 2-2 record in five career starts in his home state.
Scherzer struck out 11 over his seven innings Saturday, allowing just that one hit, two walks and no runs. So, in two games, Nationals’ starters have not allowed a run to the Cardinals. The Nationals are putting on a starting pitching clinic. They are built on starting pitching and are making the most of their advantage over other teams.
Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo came up through the scouting ranks and believes in starting pitching as the base to all success. Rizzo said he learned early in his career, “Once you have starting pitching anything is possible, and if you don’t have it, nothing is possible.’’
Everything is possible for these Nationals.
Cardinals starter Adam Wainwright tried to keep up, but he could not match Scherzer and he allowed a solo home run to Michael Taylor in the third inning. The Nationals added two more runs in the eighth on Adam Eaton’s two-run double down the first-base line.
They don’t guard the lines late in games as much anymore and Eaton took full advantage.
Sean Doolittle came on in the eighth for Washington and allowed a two-out single to Paul DeJong to bring up pinch-hitter Jose Martinez, the Cardinals’ big weapon off the bench. It looked like he got Martinez, who hit a liner to center, but Taylor was fooled by the ball and it sailed over his head for a run-scoring double.
Doolittle did not crumble though, and got the next hitter, Dexter Fowler, on a lazy fly ball to right field.
Scherzer tried to tamp down the emotions of pitching near his hometown because of the magnitude of the game.
“It will be just some friends that will be able to come to the game to see it,” he said. “Otherwise everybody is watching on TV anyways. So it makes it easier for my parents to travel, they’re here.’’
The Nationals have always been considered a talented organization, but in the year they let Bryce Harper walk away they have really put it together, winning the wild-card game, shocking the Dodgers in five games and now taking a two-game lead on the Cardinals with two road wins to start the series.
The clubhouse is together and that is a key ingredient to success this time of year.
These two starts also take the heat off Strasburg. He is not carrying the load of having to keep the Nationals in this series. They are in command because of their starting pitching and Strasburg can keep it rolling.