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The night ended badly for the Mets, thanks to a combination of their hushed bats and their chronically inconsistent would-be setup man, Seth Lugo. Any time you lose a game to a lousy team like the Reds, it makes for a lousy night — for reinforcement, check what happened in Pittsburgh on Tuesday. The Braves won again. That added to the laments.
But really, if this 1-0 loss kept you awake all night?
You sort of missed the point.
Max Scherzer was the point. Scherzer was the story. Scherzer returned for the first time since May 18 and delivered six brilliant innings, two hits and 11 strikeouts, and he had all of his pitches working. At 7:47 p.m., Scherzer hummed a 94 mph fastball past Jonathan India, and the Mets were damn near whole again.
He touched 97 on the gun, he had only one troublesome inning, and he was in complete command. More to the point, he was ornery when he walked off the mound after six innings and 79 pitches, which means he was his old self. And he made it through his return to the big leagues unscathed.
“I was real impressed with his command as much as anything,” manager Buck Showalter said. “Hopefully it bodes well for the rest of the season. Max is going to be frustrated the team didn’t win the game, but he’s missed this, missed being on the field. I feel good for him.”
You can say what you want about the Reds’ lineup, which is anemic on its best nights and on this night was missing Joey Votto. These were still big league hitters. And Scherzer made them look alternately helpless, hopeless and hapless. The fact the Mets picked this night to go into a deep offensive hibernation — Mets fans like to call this being “deGrommed” — was unfortunate timing for Scherzer.
But his return in Game 81, the official midway point of the season, was right on time. For the Mets, yes. But also for Scherzer, coming off an oblique injury.
“I felt great, felt strong all the way through, and it didn’t tighten up on me,” Scherzer said. “I was able to locate the fastball and had a really good slider tonight. I found something on my slider and was able to execute that and make an adjustment.”
After he was informed that he was leaving the game, as he watched the Mets hang another zero in the top of the seventh, Scherzer was his normal percolating self, roaming the dugout, a pinch between his cheek and gums, talking with anyone who would listen, notably Taijuan Walker. Scherzer clearly understands that an extra inning in Cincinnati isn’t the right hill to die on, but that’s just who he is.
“He wants to pitch the seventh and the eighth and the ninth and the 10th,” Showalter said. “He never wants to come out of the game.”
He’s craved the ball for weeks. Tuesday, he finally got it back in his right hand, and it sang for him as it has sung for few others who try to get big league hitters out for a living. He nicked corners. He missed bats. Every pitch in his toolbox, he threw for strikes. This was baseball as artistry. He was engaged, start to finish. He was back.
“This is a good problem to have,” Scherzer said of Showalter’s decision to lift him after six. “Buck will make the best decision for my health and the ballclub and my long-term health. I wanted to get 90-95 pitches tonight. I’ll try to do that next time.”
Yes, starting today, it is perfectly acceptable to turn your attention elsewhere if you must. The Mets hadn’t looked this dysfunctional on offense since last year, and if that didn’t kill the postgame buzz, it certainly muffled it a bit. Every time Lugo looks like he’s about to regain his best form of past years, he seems to put up a dog inning like the ninth Tuesday.
And, sure, the Braves. If baseball anxiety is a sickness, the Braves are a carrier.
But don’t forget the big picture. Don’t forget Tuesday’s big story. Max Scherzer was back. Max Scherzer is back. The Mets aren’t quite whole, not with Scherzer’s co-pilot Jacob deGrom still toiling in rehab. But for the first time in a long time, halfway through the race, they’re close.