He craves games like these, feeds off them, lives for and makes a darn good living from them — the postseason and the postseason-like, with the big crowds and the bright lights and the whiff of October, even if you can’t tell by this heat and humidity.
So although it was not even a little surprising that Max Scherzer again came up huge Saturday night to push the Mets to a doubleheader sweep of Atlanta, it nonetheless was a masterpiece. In a 6-2 nightcap win, he struck out 11 and walked none in seven shutout innings. That came after David Peterson held Atlanta scoreless for 5 1⁄3 innings in an 8-5 victory in the opener.
The Mets, doing almost everything well for upwards of 12 hours at the ballpark, improved to 69-39 and boosted their NL East lead back to 5 1⁄2 games over second-place Atlanta, their largest margin since June 21. It was perhaps the biggest day yet in a season that is poised to have more of them.
“This is what you play the game for,” Scherzer said. “We’re just playing great baseball right now.”
Manager Buck Showalter added: “He wants to be in those moments.”
And there is more to come.
“It’s great to win these games, don’t get me wrong,” Scherzer said. “You want to beat them as much as you can. But it’s going to take that type of effort for the rest of the season.”
Scherzer (8-2) worked around the smallest bits of trouble, scattering four hits. Travis d’Arnaud doubled with two outs in the second but was stranded there. Matt Olson singled with one out in the fourth but did not advance. D’Arnaud doubled again to lead off the fifth and Michael Harris II lined a one-out single off Scherzer to put runners at the corners. But Luis Guillorme’s daring throw home on a grounder by Ehire Adrianza to get d’Arnaud kept Atlanta (64-45) off the board.
“I didn’t know what was going on,” Scherzer said. “I was like, ‘What the hell was going on? You’re throwing this ball home? It’s 3-0, just take your out.’ . . . That was a huge play out of Guillorme. He had the best view in the house to be able to make that play. With his hands, his defense — it’s lights out, what he can do defensively. Kudos to him for making that play.”
Finishing with a flourish, Scherzer struck out the side — Eddie Rosario, William Contreras, Marcell Ozuna — in the seventh as his pitch count climbed to a season-high 108.
Scherzer’s ERA is 1.98. He has never had a lower mark over a full season.
“He treats every hitter in the lineup with the same respect, and he’s got a plan, and it may not always be perfect, but he’s got command of his pitches and he can execute them,” Showalter said. “He’s fun to be around.”
The milestones keep coming, too. He tied Justin Verlander, his former Tigers teammate, for 14th on the all-time strikeout list with 3,140. With his 109th double-digit strikeout game, he passed Pedro Martinez for fourth, closing in on Roger Clemens (110). And he picked up the 199th win of his career, third among active pitchers.
Pete Alonso went 3-for-4 with an RBI to highlight the Mets’ offensive effort. He also scored on a key play in the sixth, sneaking in ahead of d’Arnaud’s tag. Initially called out, Alonso was ruled safe upon review. The Mets reached lefthander Max Fried (10-4) for four runs (two earned) in six innings.
In the opener, Francisco Lindor went 3-for-4 with three RBIs and two runs scored. He had a hand in all four of the team’s rallies and even snuffed out one of Atlanta’s.
His RBI total is up to 77. That is four shy of the franchise shortstop record held by Jose Reyes, who had 81 in 2006. Lindor’s average is .267, up from .248 at the All-Star break.
“It’s like you’re mining for gold,” Showalter said. “You take a piece of gold, you put it over there. You take the rock, you put it over here. And you sift some more. When you get enough nuggets, you get to play in October. Lindor is a nugget.”