Baseball is romantic, but there is little to no romanticism in insomnia. It is debilitating and puts one in a frame of mind something akin to zombification, if not total surrender. My insomnia, thankfully, is relatively transient. Like a roster bubble player, it makes a brief appearance, causes a little consternation – a few column inches here and there, a few difficult nights – and then is gone.
Tonight (Tuesday), it is a blessing of a kind. I can’t sleep, but the Mets are slated to face the Reds in Cincy at 11.40pm BST, and Max Scherzer is due to pitch after a stint on the IL and an interminable 47-day absence. As of 11pm, though, it’s hailing in Cincy, and the game is delayed for at least an hour, with a real possibility of a rain-out. So I have taken to this piece because Scherzer, even in absentia, is worth writing about, and writing is productive in the face of sleeplessness. What better way to while away a couple of hours?
Scherzer got hurt pitching against the Cardinals on 18 May (an internal oblique injury). As anticipation of his return grew, I followed his recent rehabilitation starts with intrigue. The Binghamton Rumble Ponies, the Mets Double-A affiliate, were blessed with two Mad Max outings in late June. Binghamton is approximately half-way between metropolitan New York and Buffalo. Hit Scranton, Pennsylvania, of ‘The Office’ fame, and head due north on I-81 for 60 miles, give or take. The Flight Simulator was invented there, and it was once known as the carousel capital of the US (apparently). Scherzer though has been the main attraction of late. In his first start he went 3⅓ innings, allowing three hits and two runs, with six strikeouts on 65 pitches. James McCann, the Mets customary starting catcher, was behind the plate. His second start for the Rumble Ponies drew a record crowd of 7,491, during which he threw 80 pitches through 4⅔ innings. The 37-year-old ace struck out eight and allowed three runs, two earned, with four hits and a walk.
After that second rehab start, his first since 2010 with the Toledo Mud Hens (he was famously durable in Washington), Scherzer bought his teammates dinner to the tune of around $7k – “They’re eating well tonight.” It was later revealed, by an unnamed Rumble Pony, that he’d also purchased Apple AirPods for the entire squad. A nice gesture from a universally liked guy, albeit a drop in the ocean – the Nationals (yes the Nationals, not the Mets) paid Scherzer $15 million this week, the first of seven such payments every 1 July through 2028, regardless of where or whether he plays.
For their part, David Peterson and Trevor Williams have helped keep the Mets atop the NL East (a three-game lead at time of publication) with admirable fill-in performances in the absence of Scherzer and Jacob deGrom. The club went 25-16 without Max in the rotation. But they could have thrown consecutive no-hitters, and they’d have still had to gracefully make way for his return. A look at his numbers this year prior to tonight’s outing underlines his dominance:
In watching the three-time NL Cy Young award winner pitch, it is hard not to fawn, and I am perhaps guilty of spilling over into sycophancy. But oblige me – occasionally, someone is worthy of it. His arsenal is stacked. Multiple weapons of mass deception highlighted by a four seamer he throws 46% of the time, supplemented by a wicked slider (18%), a changeup (15%), a cutter (12%) and a curveball (9%). For a detailed breakdown of the development of said arsenal, check out his Baseball Savant profile. Throughout his career it has been the classic fastball/slider combo which has proved most effective, but his wider impacts have been myriad. Manager Buck Showalter has opined publicly about the positive influence the future hall of famer has had on the clubhouse since arriving in New York.
Scherzer leads by example. There is an intensity to how he plays the game which is reminiscent of Sam McDowell (without the booze), or hall of famer Sandy Koufax, who famously stated “Pitching…is the art of instilling fear.” Scherzer is indeed terrifying. His Heterochromia Iridis – his left eye is brown, and his right is blue – puts one in mind of the Terminator. It lends a certain cartoon villainousness to his physical appearance. His demeanour, though, is what sets him apart. At Binghamton he paced the dugout like it was Game Seven of the World Series, and was captured here before the game psyching himself up:
He mutters profanities on the mound during his wind-up, obscenely chastising himself (once hilariously doing so during an All-Star game) and calling out hitters, though never within earshot. It’s all for him – his mind, his bloody-mindedness, his competitiveness. This was equally evident during the MLB CBA talks this off-season, where Max was perhaps the most visible high-profile negotiator for the players. Some have seen him as the natural heir to current head of the Player’s Union, Tony Clark, although he has publicly stated no interest in the role.
Anyway, it’s late, and the game is about to start, finally, albeit with plenty of potential for delays. Either way, whenever Scherzer does take the mound this season, I’ll be watching, insomnia or not.
Addendum – Scherzer pitched six innings in his return, striking out a season high 11 batters and surrendering no runs and just two hits. He induced 15 swings and misses. The Mets lost the game 1-0 on a ninth-inning sacrifice fly.
Featured image of Max Scherzer by G Fiume / Getty Images Sport / Getty
Joshua Edwards is a long-suffering Met fan and the London Series correspondent for Bat Flips & Nerds. You can follow him on Twitter @Joshwa_1990