The Pittsburgh Pirates, winners of 21 of the previous 27 games and considered the hottest team in baseball, went up against an equally hot Max Scherzer of the Washington Nationals on a hot and humid Saturday afternoon at Nationals Park in Washington.
Scherzer had taken a perfect game into the seventh inning against the Milwaukee Brewers in his last start, settling for a one-hit shutout with 16 strikeouts and only one walk.
The game-time temperature was 91.1 The TV announcers and other sources mentioned that the high humidity that day made for one of the hottest days of the summer in Washington.
The Nationals put a run on the board in the fourth when Bryce Harper hit his 23rd homer of the season off Pirates left-handed starter Francisco Liriano, a solo shot to deep center. Harper had strained his left hamstring on Thursday night and missed Friday’s game before returning to action this day, but at less than 100 percent.
The Nationals scored four more runs in the sixth and one in the seventh to make the score 6-0.
The right-handed Scherzer entered the bottom of the ninth with a perfect game going after retiring the first 24 batters he faced. Gregory Polanco led off the inning by fouling out to third baseman Anthony Rendon, who made a nice play near the dugout. Jordy Mercer lined out to center fielder Denard Span. Hitting .313 in a reserve role, right-handed batter Jose Tabata stepped up to the plate, pinch-hitting for relief pitcher Vance Worley. With two strikes on Tabata and Scherzer’s 103rd pitch of the game, Tabata appeared to lower his left elbow protector into the path of the ball and was hit by the pitch. Home-plate umpire Mike Muchlinski didn’t see it that way and sent Tabata to first, breaking up the perfect game. Scherzer said it was a slider that he didn’t finish and it didn’t break much. Josh Harrison flied out to deep left to end the game and give Scherzer the no-hitter. The Nationals TV play-by-play announcer, Bob Carpenter, wrapped it up nicely by saying: “Max Scherzer has a no-hitter. Sunday in Milwaukee he was amazing and today in D.C. he was almost perfect.”2
Scherzer came within one out of throwing the 24th perfect game in major-league history, but did manage to throw the 289th no-hitter in front of a crowd of 41,104 and took 2:21 to complete.
Building on his one-hitter against the Brewers on June 14, Scherzer had faced only three batters over the minimum, retiring 54 of the last 57 batters he faced, giving up one hit, walking one batter and hitting one (Tabata) with a pitch while striking out 26.
The Pirates had won eight in a row before arriving in Washington but had now scored just one run in 18 innings after a 4-1 loss to the Nationals in the series opener on Friday.
As with almost all no-hitters and perfect games, great defensive plays made a difference and this day was no different. The Pirates’ Jordy Mercer sent a long drive to left field with one out in the top of the third but Michael A. Taylor jumped and caught the ball right in front of the pad on top of the wall in left field. With two out in the top of the eighth, the shift was on against left-handed-hitting Pedro Alvarez, who hit a groundball past the diving Ian Desmond. Second baseman Danny Espinosa, who was playing short right field in the shift, had to charge the grounder in order to have a chance at getting the speedy Alvarez at first. Espinoza fielded the ball and made a great throw to retire Alvarez and keep the perfect game intact.
Samantha Loss, a reporter and editor for WTOP radio, summed it up nicely. Since it was Father’s Day weekend, her dad wanted to go to the game that Saturday afternoon, so they went. She said, “When you go to a World Series game or a Stanley Cup Finals game, you know you are going to something special. No one knew this mid-June baseball game would be anything special until it became special. It’s a different feeling, when a regular, ordinary game suddenly becomes extraordinary.” She added, “The game started out like any other. But by the fifth inning the sweat-soaked crowd realized that they were watching Max Scherzer pitching a perfect game. After the Nationals scored four runs in the bottom of the sixth, the feeling in Nats Park was electric. It was almost a playoff-like atmosphere.”3
When the Nationals were at bat, Scherzer watched from the air-conditioned clubhouse, where he changed his undershirt every inning.4
After five seasons with the Detroit Tigers, Scherzer returned to the National League for the 2015 season when he signed a $210 million contract with the Nationals. After the win on June 20, Scherzer was 8-5 with a major-league-leading 1.76 ERA and 123 strikeouts, also tops in baseball.5
This article appears in “Moments of Joy and Heartbreak: 66 Significant Episodes in the History of the Pittsburgh Pirates” (SABR, 2018), edited by Jorge Iber and Bill Nowlin. To read more stories from this book at the SABR Games Project, click here.
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author also accessed MLB.com, MLB.TV, and Retrosheet.org.
1 The temperature is given in the box score at baseball-reference.com.
2 MLB.TV Archives.
3 Samantha Loss, “Greatest Game: Pittsburgh Pirates vs. Washington Nationals — June 20, 2015,” October 8, 2015. Retrieved from wtop.com/washington-nationals/2015/10/greatest-game-pittsburgh-pirates-vs-washington-nationals-june-20-2015/.
4 James Wagner, Washington Post, June 20, 2015. Retrieved from washingtonpost.com/sports/nationals/2015/06/20/a83b59fe-1761-11e5-9ddc-e3353542100c_story.html?utm_term=.bc98c6af1858.
5 Eric Stephen, June 20, 2015. Retrieved from: sbnation.com/mlb/2015/6/20/8819025/max-scherzer-no-hitter-nationals-pirates.