Scherzer has accomplished more than he could have dreamed. He has won three Cy Young Awards. He has struck out 3,367 batters in the regular season. Monday’s start for the Texas Rangers in Game 3 of the World Series was the 30th appearance of his postseason career. He has signed contracts worth more than $350 million. He is due $43 million next season. What a life.
But that scene during the Rangers’ 3-1 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks on Monday night at Chase Field — Texas Manager Bruce Bochy and the trainer walking to the mound to evaluate an ailing Scherzer, then Scherzer walking back to the dugout, his back locked up — leads to one Texas-size question.
Scherzer has wrenched so much from his body for so long. How much does he have left to give? Not in this World Series, which the Rangers now lead 2-1. But, like, ever? By this time next season, he will be 40.
“And?” was his quick retort when presented that information, accompanied by a glare.
He is nothing if not confident in himself and his understanding of his body.
“These are just little things,” he said. “This is just an ailment. There’s definitely a path forward for me to get out of this and get back onto the mound. Like I said, it’s a spasm. So you’re locked up right now. Once you get the spasm to clear and the muscle relaxes, you’re good to go again.”
Maybe. It’s just so striking to see someone once defined by his durability break down with such regularity. For so much of his career, Scherzer’s postseason appearances enhanced his legacy. Now, they are hurting it. He’s a Hall of Famer whatever happens for the rest of his career, however long that is. But the baseline question isn’t “Can he pitch into the eighth?” It’s “Can he get out of the fourth?”
That put an edge to Monday’s developments. His two other starts this postseason lasted four and 2⅔ innings. On Monday, he needed just 36 pitches to get through three scoreless frames.
“I was feeling good,” Scherzer said. “I was finally feeling like I was going to get deep into a game and finally get some rhythm and finally get going here. And I had a little spasm, so it’s frustrating.”
When the Rangers aggressively pursued a trade with the New York Mets for Scherzer in July, they got him not only for the stretch run and this postseason but for 2024, when they should expect to contend again. But the tires, they don’t have much tread on them anymore.
That conclusion isn’t drawn just because of Monday night. It’s because he made just eight starts for Texas before succumbing to a shoulder issue. That followed a neck problem that cost him time with the Mets in May. That followed an oblique strain that sidelined him in May 2022, a problem that sat him down again in September. In 2021, there was a groin, then a triceps, then a hamstring.
Scherzer can call them “ailments” and consider each random. They are, by now, a pattern — and there’s no shame in that. He once started at least 30 games for 10 straight seasons. That can’t be a reasonable expectation going forward.
The Rangers got him to help them in October. But he keeps breaking down in October or en route. Now it seems more likely that Texas would replace him on the World Series roster than let him pitch again.
“We’ll see where he’s at in the next 24 hours,” Bochy said, “and decide where we’re at with him.”
If Scherzer is going to be some reasonable version of himself — ever again — something has to change. Could the model for Max 2024 be something like Roger Clemens in 2006 with Houston and 2007 with the New York Yankees? In those years, when he was 43 and 44, Clemens didn’t ramp up until the regular season had started. He first appeared in a major league game in June. The expectations for a pitcher in his 40s couldn’t be of a pitcher in his 20s. He adjusted.
“It is frustrating,” Scherzer said. “But there’s nothing I can do. So you just got to stay positive.”
During his nearly seven seasons with Washington — essentially the height of his career, when he won back-to-back Cy Youngs, led the National League in WHIP three times and strikeouts three times — we learned one thing about Scherzer: Don’t doubt him, because he’ll just prove you wrong.
If that meant suffering a broken nose and a black eye while taking bunting practice one day, then shoving the next, so be it. He could throw no-hitters (which he did twice). He could strike out 20 in a game. There was always something.
In that era, Scherzer generally replicated his regular season performance in October. In 12 of his first 16 postseason starts — first with Detroit, then with the Nats — he completed at least six innings. Four times he finished seven. On the days Max took the mound, his team had to feel it had the best chance to win.
But now, he seems more likely to break than to ball out. Go back to 2019, when Scherzer was still with the Nationals and was a major part of pushing them past the Los Angeles Dodgers, then past St. Louis and into the World Series. Scherzer arrived in the Fall Classic and took the ball for Game 1 having thrown 192⅓ innings in the regular season and postseason. He did well to navigate five innings in the opener. But when it came time to answer the bell for Game 5 in what was a tied series against the Houston Astros, a stiff neck sent him to the shelf. Joe Ross took the ball. Scherzer watched.
“Similar feeling in that you’re locked,” Scherzer said. “When it’s the neck, it’s even worse.”
His mind immediately went to what happened next: He took the ball for Game 7.
“But look at that,” Scherzer said. “I was able to snap out of that in 72 hours. So there is history that these spasms can go away and can go away quick. In 48 hours, we’ll know.”
Fine. But there are also facts. Since then, Scherzer has made eight postseason starts. He has failed to get out of the fifth inning in six of them. When he was traded to the Dodgers midway through the 2021 season, he was due to start Game 6 of the National League Championship Series with the season in the balance. But four appearances in 12 days had his arm “locked up.” He couldn’t take the ball, and the Dodgers lost.
Scherzer said Monday that he’ll know in 48 hours whether his back will have improved enough that he might pitch again in this series. The past few years tell us that the concerns should be larger. He is a giant of a pitcher, one of the best of his generation. But eventually, the end comes for everyone. At some point, no amount of athletic defiance and competitive confidence can stave it off.