So-so All-Star Game at home for Nationals' Scherzer, Harper
By HOWARD FENDRICH
WASHINGTON (AP) For Max Scherzer, Bryce Harper and any Nationals Park regulars in attendance, this home All-Star Game probably felt rather familiar. A lot of hype, some so-so performances and, at times, a nearly silent ballpark.
Washington righty Scherzer became the first reigning Cy Young Award winner to start a Midsummer Classic at home, and delighted the fans singing his name with four strikeouts in two innings for the National League on Tuesday night - but he also gave up a homer to Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge in what became an 8-6 victory in 10 innings for the American League.
"I threw a fastball up, and I hit my spot. ... I was like, `Man, I really thought I threw that high.' And you've got to go higher than higher than high against him," said Scherzer, who was making his third All-Star start and second in a row. "He's 6-foot-7. It's incredible. He put a good swing on it. ... I realize now, pitching against tall guys, you've got to go high."
Nationals outfielder Harper's encore to his Home Run Derby triumph was to go 0 for 2, striking out in both of his at-bats - once looking, once swinging. And while his theatrics a night earlier got the Washington crowd excited during the slugging contest, the place was quiet as can be for stretches of the game.
Sort of the way things have been at times in 2018 for the Nationals, who were coming off two consecutive NL East titles and were a popular pick to make it three in a row. Instead, it's been a real struggle for Washington. The club entered the break with only a 48-48 record, putting it third in the division, 5+ games in back of the Philadelphia Phillies and also behind the Atlanta Braves.
The Nationals have dealt with all sorts of injuries - rookie manager Dave Martinez said he hopes Stephen Strasburg, Ryan Zimmerman and Sean Doolittle all will come off the disabled list Friday - but they've also underperformed as a whole.
The evening began promisingly enough for Scherzer, whose three Cy Youngs include the past two in the NL.
"From the on-deck circle, looking at him," said Boston DH J.D. Martinez, who singled in the first, "you were like, `Dude, he's pumping it right now.'"
With a likeness of the righty hovering over the second deck beyond right field - accurate down to the blue right eye and brown left - Scherzer began the evening by getting Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts looking at an 87 mph cutter. Next came Astros outfielder Jose Altuve, who swung through a 98 mph fastball for another strikeout.
Spectators chanted, "Let's go, Scherzer!" at one point and "Let's go, Max!" at another.
"This was a blast," Scherzer said. "It's something I'll never forget."
After each K, Scherzer stomped around the infield grass, showing the same intensity he does when the games count in the standings.
Then he walked Angels slugger Mike Trout.
"He's the best player in the game right now. The stadium was going nuts and I was feeding off that," Scherzer said. "I really wanted to strike him out. He kept grinding me."
After Martinez's hit, Scherzer got Cleveland's Jose Ramirez to pop up to end the first inning. Scherzer stalked off the mound right to the dugout, without pausing for a second or looking just to check and make sure it was caught.
Judge led off the second by connecting with an 0-1 fastball. He drove a shot into the bullpen beyond left field, then smiled and chomped on gum as he rounded the bases.
"Pretty cool moment," Judge said.
Scherzer got the next three batters out, including strikeouts of Jose Abreu of the White Sox and Salvador Perez of the Royals, and was done.
Harper, who batted sixth and played center field, struck out against Luis Severino of the Yankees in the second, and Blake Snell of the Rays in the fourth. Like the rest of the NL's starting position players, Harper was taken out after the fifth inning, and by then, a ballpark that was raucous because of him a day earlier had grown rather still.
When the Nationals are back at the stadium Friday to open a series against the Braves, Harper and Co. will hope to begin a second-half surge that will provide plenty for the locals to cheer for.
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Updated July 18, 2018