If you want to get a feel for just how cruel the game of baseball was to Max Scherzer last night, watch a little bit of his postgame interview, in which he stood shell-shocked in front of his locker and tried to explain how a fifth inning that started with two quick outs ended with four runs crossing the plate.
The thing that jumps out here is how Scherzer insists, believably, that he never really lost control last night. “Nothing in my head was getting sideways,” he says, before arriving at the truth of the matter: “You can execute pitches, and sometimes that’s not enough.”
And Scherzer, as he goes on to explain in great detail, did in fact execute the pitches he wanted to. After turning Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo into easy outs, Scherzer allowed Willson Contreras to reach on groundball that shortstop Trea Turner couldn’t quite get a handle on. The pitch Contreras hit, an 0-2 fastball up in the zone, was right where Scherzer wanted it to be:
You know with Contreras, I thought if I got a fastball to the top of the zone—and that’s where I wanted it—he’s trying to pull the ball. If I got it to the top of the zone, and I executed it, and got a ground ball. Just happened that we were playing him to pull and Trea’s just out of reach.
Scherzer threw the exact pitch he wanted to throw, in the exact spot he wanted it, and then got the exact result he was looking for. But Contreras ended up on first, and then Scherzer had to deal with Ben Zobrist, who blooped a 2-2 pitch into short left field for a single. Again, Scherzer explained what happened:
With Zobrist, in Game 3 I thought if I go fastball away he can get his arms extended and do damage. So I thought if I kind of stay more middle with it, but just get it up, then it gets him in the air and can kind of zap his power. And that’s what I did.
We’re constantly told, by coaches and broadcasters and players themselves, that all you can ask of a pitcher is for them to execute pitches. Put the right pitch to the right guy in the right place at the right time, and everything will be fine. The reason things are so often not fine is because that kind of execution is extremely hard to pull off over and over again during a baseball game—mistakes get punished.
But last night’s game proved that there is another reason, aside from poor execution, why things sometimes go all wrong for a pitcher, even one as good and fearsome as Max Scherzer. That reason is that baseball is a fucking asshole. Sometimes every pitch is put where it’s supposed to be—you zap the long-armed utility man’s power, you get the pull-hitting catcher to roll over on a grounder—and you still end up in hell.