ARLINGTON, Texas — There is a palpable intensity that sweeps through any room Max Scherzer enters. It happened again Tuesday, when Scherzer sat down inside the Texas Rangers’ interview room, his chest and face framed by blue and yellow Gatorade bottles.
There were multiple times this season where it seemed unlikely he would be here, pitching in the 2023 postseason. He began this year with the New York Mets, central in all the hoopla over their record-setting payroll. Then, when New York began tearing things down after a disappointing first half, Scherzer was again front and center. Remember those talks with Billy Eppler and Steve Cohen, when the Mets’ brass admitted to Scherzer they might not be as aggressive next season? That led Scherzer to waive his no-trade clause at the deadline.
Max Scherzer details talks with Mets brass: Team taking step back to build for 2025-26
And that decision led him here to Arlington, where the Rangers have conducted a more successful version of the Mets’ all-in experiment. Scherzer is as competitive a player as exists in this sport. Winning matters. Understandably, then, it ate at him when he went on the injured list in September. The initial fear was that the injury could require surgery. But even when the ailment was diagnosed as a low-grade strain of his right teres major muscle, Rangers general manager Chris Young had called chances of Scherzer pitching in the postseason “unlikely.”
After the way the Rangers finished the regular season, it was arguably just as unlikely they would be where they are today, with a 2-0 edge on the defending-champion Astros in the American League Championship Series. Their starter for Wednesday’s Game 3 will be none other than Scherzer.
“When this injury happened, we were in that four-to-six-week window,” Scherzer said. “You definitely knew the regular season was out of play. I took one day to feel bad about it, and the next day went back to grinding because I knew we had a team that could compete with anybody. There’s a chance I can come back, I’m going to do everything I can to put myself in position to make that on the four-week side. And here we are.
“You can never quit in baseball. You can never try to predict baseball. You have to go out every single day and do something about that. And fortunately that’s playing great in my hand.”
Over the past few weeks, Scherzer has said he has tried to be patient and realistic with his injury. But that does not mean he hasn’t done some lobbying, telling manager Bruce Bochy and the rest of the Rangers’ brain trust he is ready to pitch.
“Believe me,” Bochy said in Houston, “he’s been wearing me out a little bit, just assuring us that, ‘Hey, I’m healthy, I’m ready to go.’”
Most recently, Scherzer threw a 68-pitch live batting practice session. The results were said to be highly encouraging.
So this leaves Scherzer on the mound in the postseason once again. It is difficult for anyone to know exactly what to expect Wednesday. Even Scherzer has admitted he’s not sure how a live session in an empty stadium will translate to the thick of postseason play.
“In my last sim game, in the fourth sim inning, the last batter I’m facing, I was stepping on every single fastball, every single off-speed pitch,” Scherzer said. “I was trying to throw it at max effort to see … How is my arm going to respond when I go to step on it? And it held up.
“That gives me confidence to know, ‘All right, now we have a better shot to be able to navigate a start.’ I have no idea what that means in a playoff start. I have no experience coming off the injured list after a month off and trying to make a playoff start.”
Even when healthy, Scherzer has not pitched at his previous Cy Young levels this season. He had a 4.01 ERA in his time with New York. After coming to the Rangers, though, he had a 3.20 ERA in 45 innings.
Wednesday will be his 28th career outing in the postseason, where he owns a 3.58 career ERA. But in his last start against the Astros on Sept. 6, Scherzer lasted only three innings, surrendering three home run balls and seven earned runs.
“I realize what I got going forward for tomorrow,” Scherzer said. “I realize the challenges I have for tomorrow. But it’s my job to navigate it and make the best of it.”
Back in the 2019 World Series, Scherzer had been scratched from a Game 5 start with neck spasms, an issue so bad he could barely get out of bed or raise his arm that morning. He ended up starting Game 7 for the Washington Nationals, going five innings, allowing two runs and earning the win.
Scherzer is a different beast, so underestimating him could be foolish.
“I want to pitch,” he said. “I want the ball. That’s just how I tick.”
At the same time, it’s unclear what, if any, limitations the 39-year-old Scherzer will have Wednesday against the Astros. Bochy said the live session of nearly 70 pitches serves as the baseline. But the Rangers will also monitor the game, how Scherzer is feeling and how he is throwing.
Regardless of the result, Game 3 should make for good theater. Scherzer came to Texas to win. The Rangers traded for him to aid their playoff push.
Now the stage is set.
“All postseason starts are precious,” Scherzer said. “You’re playing for a ring. When you get to this point in the year, like I said, this is what you dream of, all the sacrifices you make in your life, all the hard work you put in throughout the offseason is to get to this moment, to get to this spot. So here we are.”
(Top photo: Jerome Miron / USA Today)