Nov. 1, 2020:
Twice in MLB playoff history, a team has had two of its pitchers carry no-hitters into the sixth innings or later in back-to-back games. The two teams were different – the Detroit Tigers in 2013 and the Washington Nationals in 2019 – but the two pitchers were the same: Anibal Sanchez and Max Scherer.
Scherzer won his first Cy Young Award in 2013, winning 21 games with a 2.90 earned run average and a league-leading 0.970 WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched). Sanchez won 14 games and led the league with a 2.57 ERA.
Tigers ace Justin Verlander had started and beaten the A’s in Game 5 of the division series, so Sanchez started the first game of the A.L. championship series against the Red Sox in Boston on Saturday night, Oct. 12, facing John Lester.
Detroit scratched out a run with a walk, a hit-batsman and a two-out single off Lester in the top of the sixth. In the bottom of the inning, Sanchez surrendered a one-out walk and threw a wild-pitch before striking out David Ortiz. Two more walks loaded the bases before the Venezuelan righty struck out Stephen Drew on his 116th pitch.
Tigers manager Jim Leyland figured Sanchez had given it all he could. He left with his no-hitter and the lead intact, but he had walked six.
The bullpen took over in the seventh. Daniel Nava’s one-out single in the ninth off Joaquin Benoit was all the Sox could muster as the Tigers won, 1-0.
Scherzer’s steller performance came in Sunday night’s game, but the Tigers weren’t able to capitalize. Detroit scored four in the top of the sixth to give Max a 5-0 lead. In the bottom of the inning, he lost the no-hitter when he gave up a two-out, line-drive, single to Shane Victorino, followed by Dustin Pedroia’s RBI double. Scherzer struck out Ortiz to end the inning. Max retired the Red Sox 1-2-3, in the seventh, fanning his 12th and 13th batters. He left with a 5-1 lead.
This time, Detroit’s bullpen failed miserably. Five pitchers, three of whom had pitched the day before, each gave a run, recording just three outs before the Red Sox won in walk-off fashion with nobody out in the ninth, 6-5. Despite seven innings of two-hit ball and 13 strikeouts, Scherzer got a no-decision. The Red Sox advanced to the World Series by beating the Tigers 4 games to 2, beating Sanchez and Scherer in their next starts.
Thankfully for Nationals fans, the efforts of Sanchez and Scherzer proved more fruitful in 2019. While missing time with an injury, Scherzer won 11 games with a sub-3.00 ERA and fanned an amazing 243 batters in 172.1 innings. After losing his first six decisions, Sanchez went 11-2.
The Nats had beaten Milwaukee in dramatic fashion in the wild-card game before facing the Dodgers, the team with the N.L.’s best record. The teams split the first two games in Los Angeles. Sanchez started Game 3 in D.C. and left with a 2-1 lead after five, the only Dodger run coming on a two-out homer in the fifth by Max Muncy. But Patrick Corbin imploded in the sixth, with Los Angeles scoring seven runs in the inning on the way to a 10-4 win.
Scherzer kept the Nats alive, giving up one run over seven innings in a 6-1 victory in D.C. Howie Kendrick’s 10th-inning grand slam in Game 5 sent Washington on to the division series.
Sanchez got the call to start the league championship series against the Cardinals on Friday night, Oct. 11 so Scherzer could start Game 2 on longer rest. As he had been in 2013, Sanchez was masterful. In the fourth, a walk, a bad throw on a steal put a runner at third with two out, but Sanchez got Marcell Ozuna to pop out in foul territory. In the sixth, with the Nationals clinging to a 1-0 lead, he hit a batter but after a steal and groundout, he stranded that runner at third.
His teammates gave Sanchez a tiny bit of breathing room by scoring a run off the Cards’ bullpen in the seventh. Anibal set the Cardinals down in the bottom of the inning. On his 103rd pitch with two outs in the eighth, he gave up a line single to pinch-hitter Jose Martinez. Manager Dave Martinez brought in Sean Doolittle for a four-out save. The Cards got nothing else and lost, 2-0.
The next afternoon, Scherzer did his best to top that. He no-hit the Cardinals through six, striking out 10, before Paul Goldschmidt lined a single on an 0-2 pitch leading off the seventh. Scherzer then fanned Ozuna and got Yadier Molina to hit in a double-play grounder to short. His night ended after 101 pitches.
Adam Eaton’s double gave the Nats a 2-0 lead in the top of the eighth. Doolittle was called on again in the bottom of the inning. After one-out single, pinch -hitter Jose Martinez came through once more. His RBI double made it 3-1. But Corbin and Daniel Hudson retired the Cards in order in the ninth to seal the victory for Scherzer.
Stephen Strasburg and Corbin started the third and fourth games in D.C. as the Nationals completed the sweep with 8-1 and 10-4 wins. So it was on to Houston, where seven games later, there was a Washington World Series celebration.