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“Mad Max” Scherzer Gets Another Chance at a World Series Ring

The Nats’ Game 1 starter is a fan favorite in Washington, D.C., beloved as much for his strikeouts as for his hypercompetitive intensity. At 35 years old, he’s hoping to achieve the October success that’s eluded him in his career.

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Max Scherzer can’t hold still.

Not that his teammates can either, having just returned to their Nats Park clubhouse after punching Washington’s first-ever ticket to the World Series. But while Scherzer’s teammates have mostly settled into a medley of celebration—a shirtless Brian Dozier lofts the gleaming edge of the NLCS trophy toward Stephen Strasburg’s upturned face and tips beer in before leading a singalong to Dozier’s signature “Calma”; others dance in the center of the room, streams of beer shooting through the air and down onto teammates’ backs and heads—the pitcher seems unable to choose a celebration, so he hurries between them all.

One minute, he’s bounding through the locker room, custom goggles—one blue eye, one amber-brown in reference to his distinctive heterochromia—shining; the next, he agrees to do an interview, but seemingly can’t bear to hold still even for that, so dances in place before the microphone. When a passing teammate empties a bottle of beer over his head, he whoops and punches the air. Soaked through with beer and champagne, he suddenly rushes out the clubhouse’s front door, returning a minute later pulling along his wife, Erica May-Scherzer. The two dance, beaming and moving briefly in tandem, Erica pulling Max in for a kiss on the cheek before he hurries back into the soggy thick of it all. He can’t stop smiling. He can’t stop moving.

“We just believe we have the mojo and we can win,” Scherzer said earlier this month, and so far, he hasn’t been wrong.

On Tuesday, Scherzer will pitch the first game of the World Series in Houston, aiming to continue what has thus far been an electric October. Two of his postseason starts—the wild-card game against the Brewers and Game 4 of the NLDS against the Dodgers—have been elimination games; in both, he gave up home runs in the first inning (two to Milwaukee, one to Los Angeles), before stifling the teams the rest of the game; Washington won both. In Game 2 of the NLCS, he didn’t give up a hit to St. Louis until the seventh inning.

At 35, Scherzer has accomplished nearly everything a Major League pitcher can. He has won the Cy Young Award three times and had a 2019 campaign that makes him a candidate for no. 4; he’s an odds-on favorite for the Hall of Fame. He has also become the face of his franchise in a decidedly literal way: The Nats Park outfield features a supersized image of Scherzer’s eyes; when he pitches, the team floods the park’s screens with the same picture, Ks lurking in the center of either pupil. He is a fan favorite, beloved as much for those Ks as for his hypercompetitive intensity, a trait that has earned him the nickname “Mad Max.” After the Nats won the NLCS, Scherzer jerseys sold out across the D.C. area.

This is Scherzer’s second World Series. The first came seven years ago with Detroit—a lifetime ago, almost, before Scherzer had added a lethal cutter to his repertoire. That team was swept by San Francisco, no thanks to Scherzer’s efforts in Game 4, in which he gave up three runs over six and 1/3 innings, only to have the Giants score the go-ahead run to win the series in the 10th.

Aníbal Sánchez, now Scherzer’s counterpart in the Washington rotation, was also on that Detroit team. He concedes that Scherzer is “a hyper person,” as he put it last week, which is putting it rather lightly: On the nights this month that Scherzer hasn’t pitched, he has generally been seen pacing the Nationals dugout, seemingly just on the verge of begging manager Davey Martinez for a chance to get in the game.

This part of his game is nothing new. “The whole snarling thing, he would do that in fall ball games, even if there was nothing on the line,” college teammate Dan Pietroburgo recently told The Athletic. In June, Scherzer went so far as to shout down Martinez for daring to try to pull him after 117 pitches; a month later, he bolted out of the dugout to celebrate an Adam Eaton walk-off victory—with the only problem being that it was only the eighth inning.

It would be wrong to say that this season presented a brush with mortality for Scherzer, but it did at least present a brush with being 35. In July, the pitcher tweaked his back, costing him an appearance in the All-Star Game. That was followed by bursitis in a shoulder and then a rhomboid strain. In the end he lost the better part of two months to two stints on the injured list—as many times as he had been on the IL in his entire first decade in the majors. His endurance as one of the sport’s best pitchers is remarkable. It’s also not forever.

Scherzer came to Washington partly in the hopes of finally winning the ring that eluded him in Detroit; until this year, his team had failed to make it past the NLDS. But now, at last, he had another chance—perhaps his best chance, and likely one of his last.

Last week, as the Nationals clinched their World Series berth, he ran to join the dog pile forming around home plate. He had farther to go than most of his teammates: He was in the bullpen, just in case.