Scherzer strikes out 13 in Labor Day masterpiece to lead Dodgers over Cardinals
ST. LOUIS — The chants were faint in the seventh inning but grew louder in the ninth: “We want Albert!” Clap-clap, clap-clap-clap. “We want Albert!”
Many fans among a season-high crowd of 43,575 in Busch Stadium wanted to see Dodgers slugger Albert Pujols, the former Cardinals star who built much of his Hall of Fame resume in St. Louis from 2001-2011, make a pinch-hit appearance in what could be his final series here.
Max Scherzer wouldn’t allow it.
The Dodgers right-hander went eight innings in another dominant performance for his new club, giving up one unearned run and six hits, striking out 13 and walking none in a 5-1 victory that kept the Dodgers one game behind San Francisco in the National League West and eliminated any need for a pinch hitter.
Cardinals fans will get a chance to salute Pujols when the 41-year-old first baseman starts Tuesday night’s game.
On Monday, they witnessed a Labor Day masterpiece by another hometown product as Scherzer, a graduate of Parkway Central High School in nearby Chesterfield, Mo., improved to 5-0 with a 1.05 ERA in seven starts since his July 30 trade from Washington.
“He’s been better than advertised,” manager Dave Roberts said of Scherzer, who is 13-4 with a major league-leading 2.28 ERA on the season. “We knew what we were gonna get as far as the player. He’s exceeded that.”
The Dodgers, despite arriving at their St. Louis-area hotel at around 3 a.m. after a late-night flight from San Francisco, staked Scherzer to a 4-0 first-inning lead, as five of the first six batters reached base off Cardinals starter Miles Mikolas.
Trea Turner led off with a double to left-center field and took third on Max Muncy’s single to right. Mookie Betts ripped a run-scoring single to left, advancing Muncy to third. Muncy scored on Justin Turner’s double-play grounder.
Corey Seager walked, and Chris Taylor, who hit .152 with a .513 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, two homers and seven RBIs in his previous 19 games, drove a two-run homer to left-center to make it 4-0.
“When the boys are sleep-walking and they go out there and get me four runs, that was a huge boost for me,” said Scherzer, who flew to St. Louis ahead of the team Sunday. “That gives me the freedom to go out there and really be aggressive.”
Scherzer struck out three batters after giving up a leadoff double to Tommy Edman in the first. He retired the side in order in the second and the third. By the third inning of a game that started at 3:15 p.m. CDT, the home-plate area was bathed in shadows. Scherzer took full advantage.
“Once the shadows started creeping in, that’s when you want to go to the off-speed as much as possible, because it’s tough to see in that situation,” he said. “This is always a tough stadium with the shadows. Our guys were talking about that as well. They had a tough time seeing the ball.”
A walk, an error and Seager’s two-out RBI single in the third pushed the lead to 5-0. The Dodgers’ bats went into sleep mode after Seager’s hit, as Mikolas and relievers Andrew Miller, Kodi Whitley and Daniel Ponce de Leon combined to retire the next 19 batters.
The Cardinals scored on catcher Austin Barnes’ passed ball to make it 5-1 in the sixth, but Scherzer struck out Dylan Carlson and Tyler O’Neill to end the sixth, Matt Carpenter and Andrew Knizner in a scoreless seventh and pinch-hitter Paul DeJong in a scoreless eighth.
Scherzer, who threw six shutout innings despite a tight right hamstring in last Wednesday night’s win over Atlanta, induced 25 swinging strikes. Of his 103 pitches, 74 were strikes.
“The hamstring was good today,” Scherzer said. “I didn’t feel any remnants of what happened last time. I was trying to stay under control, not go overboard and try to test it.”
Scherzer has struck out 63 and walked five in 43 innings and has an 0.81 WHIP (walks plus hits per innings pitched) with the Dodgers. According to ESPN Stats & Info, he is only the fourth pitcher with at least 60 strikeouts and an ERA below 1.50 in his first seven starts with a team.
Randy Johnson, who was dominant after a 1998 trade from Seattle to Houston, is the only other pitcher to do it after changing teams in midseason. Most important, the Dodgers have won all seven of Scherzer’s starts.
“That’s my job, when it’s my turn, to go out there and win,” Scherzer said. “There’s a ton of pressure to do that. You have to compartmentalize it, accept it and go out there and give your best every single time.”
Scherzer boosted his strikeout total to 210, his ninth season of 200 or more strikeouts, and his career total to 2,994. With six more whiffs, he will become the 19th player in major league history with 3,000 strikeouts.
“That’s a huge milestone, and something I’ll be proud of,” Scherzer said. “But that’s just part of the process of being durable and executing game plans.”