WASHINGTON — Through a weird pregame lights delay, through a run of thunderous contact by the Nationals’ heavy hitters, through a benches-clearing episode after Francisco Lindor was hit in the face by a fastball, the Mets had a constant Friday night: Max Scherzer.
In his team debut, Scherzer was a stabilizing presence in a 7-3 Mets win, their second eventful victory in as many nights to begin the season. He lasted six innings and allowed three runs, contributing his best work late, after his new team took what turned out to be a permanent lead against his old team and after tempers flared over the Lindor incident.
That was a fine showing, particularly in the context of his recent hamstring problem and his own public uncertainty about how much he would be able to pitch in his first game — and, perhaps, any extra emotion that came with returning to Nationals Park, where he became one of the Nationals’ iconic players during seven seasons here.
“It’s almost good that this was the first one,” he said. “Just get it out of the way and let’s go on and keep marching forward. A lot of great memories here, but the team is different. It’s not the same team that I played with. Good to get this one out of the way.”
Manager Buck Showalter added: “I wouldn’t underestimate what it meant. It was a way to bring closure to his time here. It was special to him in a lot of ways.”
Among the moments interrupting Scherzer’s visit was the benches-clearing drama — and beaning scare — in the top of the fifth. X-rays of Lindor’s jaw were negative and he passed concussion tests, the Mets announced. He suffered only a scratch on his chin and, he said, a slightly cracked tooth.
The Mets had one run in, another runner on and none out when reliever Steve Cishek’s second pitch came up and in on Lindor, who was attempting to bunt. Lindor tried but failed to get out of the way, and the 88.5-mph fastball appeared to catch him on the faceguard portion of his batting helmet. He fell immediately.
“When I looked up,” he said, “my boys were out there.”
Showalter came steaming out of the dugout, vulgarities flowing. Both dugouts and bullpens cleared as a mob formed on the infield. The result was a classic baseball brouhaha: some huffing and puffing and shoving but no punches. When Lindor got back to his feet, he remained on the fringes of the skirmish.
When umpires restored order, they ejected Cishek for joining the melee. Former Mets coach Gary DiSarcina, now the Nationals’ third-base coach, also was ejected for behaving aggressively.
Showalter and the Mets already were heated after James McCann and Pete Alonso were hit high by fastballs a day earlier. (McCann also took an off-speed pitch off the foot, so there were four Mets plunkings through 14 innings.) The only National to get hit was Josh Bell, who took a Scherzer curveball off the foot.
“If you’re throwing up in there, those things can’t happen,” Showalter said.
Scherzer was unaffected by any of the above. On a cool spring night, he waited out a 14-minute delay to begin the game when the stadium lights wouldn’t come on. He flirted with danger in the third and fourth when three consecutive batters — Juan Soto, Nelson Cruz and Josh Bell — batted balls at at least 112 mph. It turned into two runs, on Bell’s homer into the second deck in rightfield.
He waited more than a half-hour between pitches because of the fracas but had no problem upon retaking the mound, needing only 12 pitches to cruise through a perfect fifth. He retired nine of his last 10 batters.
Not bad for a guy with a bad right leg. He performed in a way that protected himself physically, he said.
“I knew I needed to recognize I do have an injury and I’m still pitching and you can pitch around it,” Scherzer said. “I’ve done it many times in my career. I know how to do it.”
The Mets reached righthander Josiah Gray — the premier pitching prospect Washington received from the Dodgers when they traded Scherzer last summer — for four runs in four innings. On his 30th birthday, Jeff McNeil went 3-for-4 with a homer, two RBIs and two runs. Starling Marte was 2-for-5 with three RBIs.
After a 38-minute rain delay in the ninth inning, most of the dozens of remaining ticket-holders were Mets fans.
“It’s one of those games,” Showalter said. “You don’t want to go through all that and not win.”