Max Scherzer walked stiffly into the interview room, a bandage on the back of the Washington star pitcher’s neck telegraphing trouble.
He had hoped to beat the Astros for the second time this week, to give the Nationals a 3-2 World Series lead heading back to Houston.
Instead, he had to tell his team he couldn’t pitch , causing Washington to open with Joe Ross in Sunday night’s high-stakes Game 5 matchup against Gerrit Cole. Ross gave up two-run homers to Yordan Álvarez and Carlos Correa, lasting five innings as the Astros took a 4-0 lead.
Scherzer is not sure whether his season over.
“I woke up this morning completely locked up. I couldn’t do anything, couldn’t even dress myself,” Scherzer said, needing to turn his entire body to answer questions. “I had to have my wife help me.”
Scherzer’s switch from starter to spectator did not go over well with the three-time Cy Young Award winner. He views himself as a baseball bulldog, able to will his 35-year-old body through any obstacle.
“I’ve pitched through so much crap in my career that that would be easy to pitch through at this point,” he said. “This is literally impossible to do anything with.”
He first felt pain by the right side of his neck and trapezius muscle a few days ago. He hoped the training staff would get him in position to pitch.
“Usually when I get chiropractic adjustments, that usually really helps me out with these neck spasms,” he said. “I’ve dealt with them in the past different times where I just need little adjustments here and there. And that’s where I thought I was at a couple days ago — if I just do my normal treatment and get adjustments that I could be able to heed this off and keep it from being blowing up on me.”
Then he woke up Sunday morning and realized “this is just a little thing that turned into a big thing that turned into a giant thing.”
“I couldn’t get out of bed,” he said.
“I had to just basically fall out of bed and pick myself up with my left arm.”
He had a cortisone shot to alleviate nerve irritation in the area of his C5 and C6 vertebrae. Scherzer hopes to be available for a Game 7 on Wednesday night in Texas.
“The doctors told me it’s going to take at least 48 hours for this to kick in,” he said. “It was one of the things that was on the table yesterday. We didn’t want to go down that route and take the injection yesterday because we thought we found a way to be able to maintain everything yesterday (to) potentially make the start today.”
Washington manager Dave Martinez made the announcement 3½ hours before the first pitch. Houston manager AJ Hinch knew the Nationals had delayed announcing their starting lineup because of conversations between the bench coaches, the Nats’ Chip Hale and the Astros’ Joe Espada, but thought the lag was caused by Washington to determine whether catcher Kurt Suzuki had recovered from Friday night’s right hip flexor injury.
“If I put myself in their shoes, I would wait until the very last minute until I absolutely knew that he couldn’t go,” Hinch said.
Scherzer is 3-0 with a 2.16 ERA in four postseason starts and a Division Series relief appearance, allowing two runs over five innings while throwing 112 pitches to beat Cole in Tuesday’s opener.
“Max, obviously he pitched with a broken nose,” Martinez said. “When he comes in and says he’s hurt this bad, he’s hurt.”