Early on Monday night, it looked like he might break that mark. He struck out nine of the first 10 Cubs in this game and retired the first 16 hitters he faced. It looked like the Cubs had a good chance to be no-hit for the second time in less than a year, by a pitcher who's already thrown two no-nos in his career.
Addison Russell took care of Scherzer's perfect game, no-hitter and shutout with this at-bat:
That's a really good at-bat; nine pitches long, it included several foul balls and Russell really made Scherzer work before he hit his laser beam of a home run. It was Russell's first homer in almost a month (since May 14) and that was also good to see, as he's been scuffling a little at the plate (.190/.227/.226 in his last 25 games before Monday).
The homer tied the game 1-1. The Cubs had allowed an unearned run in the third inning on a walk, a single and a throwing error by Dexter Fowler. Kyle Hendricks wasn't striking out as many hitters as Scherzer -- that's not really his game -- but he had done a good job of coming close to the Nats righthander's performance through five.
The tie game lasted less than five minutes. Two pitches into the bottom of the sixth, this happened:
Jason Heyward had the ball in his glove, but couldn't hang on. If he had, that would have been one of the best catches I've ever seen a Cubs fielder make, reminiscent of this grab made by Reed Johnson seven years ago:
But it didn't happen, and the Nats had a 2-1 lead, on their way to a 4-1 win over the Cubs. Did that rattle Hendricks? Maybe, because the next two hitters, Anthony Rendon and Danny Espinosa, both got hits, a double and a single, making it 3-1. After Scherzer sacrificed Espinosa to third, Justin Grimm relieved Hendricks and promptly gave up another hit, to Ben Revere. That completed the scoring.
The Cubs had only one other hit in the game, a two-out double by Anthony Rizzo in the seventh inning. They drew no walks (walk watch: 263 total, 4.24 per game, pace 687) and were thoroughly dominated by Scherzer, Oliver Perez and Shawn Kelley. Perez and Kelley, who replaced Scherzer after Joe Maddon ordered Espinosa intentionally walked to force Dusty Baker's hand (Dusty pinch-hit for Scherzer with Chris Heisey, who struck out), K'd four of the five hitters they faced. Jonathan Papelbon, who'd normally have thrown the ninth with a three-run lead, was spotted on TV cameras sitting in the dugout in a T-shirt. Odd, as he hasn't been overworked (just three appearances in June). But not having to face the Nats closer didn't matter, as Cubs hitters simply looked overmatched all night.
Credit where credit is due: Clayton Richard threw a scoreless eighth, his fourth straight outing without allowing a run. Progress?
So this one comes under the category of "tip your cap to the other guy." Scherzer was dominating; if he doesn't make the one mistake to Russell, he might well have completed a no-hitter or even a perfect game. The game was just the fourth all year in which the Cubs drew no walks (now 2-2 in those games) and just the second in which they didn't have at least three hits. You might complain about the strike zone, which appeared at times to be pretty big for Scherzer, but according to the CubsUmp Twitter account, there were only five missed calls by plate umpire Dan Iassogna in this one -- and three of those were to the Cubs' benefit.
Bryce Harper this season vs #Cubs:— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) June 14, 2016
First 4 games: 1-4, 13 BB
Tonight: 1-5, 0 BB
So there's that, at least.
The Cubs will have a chance to even up this series Tuesday night. John Lackey goes for the Cubs; Gio Gonzalez for the Nationals.