Taking the ball from Max Scherzer can be a daunting task for his manager, but after his 87th pitch and in the middle of an at-bat Wednesday night, the Mets ace turned the ball over himself.
“I’m done, I’m done,” Scherzer said toward the dugout, with a wave of his hand across his neck.
And with it, the crowd of 32,798 began holding its collective breath at Citi Field.
After a short meeting, Scherzer walked off the mound with a trainer because of “left side discomfort,” the team said after the Mets’ 11-4 win over the Cardinals.
Scherzer, who will undergo an MRI exam Thursday morning to determine the exact nature of the injury, threw his final pitch for an 85 mph slider in the dirt to Albert Pujols with two outs in the sixth inning.
“Just felt a zing on my left side and just knew I was done,” Scherzer said.
“I don’t think this is a major strain,” the right-hander added. “I was kind of tight and then all of a sudden, it went. But I don’t feel like I really ripped it. It just got worse. Hopefully, I got out of there quick enough to prevent a major, major injury here. I know obliques and intercostals, those things can be nasty. Hopefully, I avoided a serious injury.”
The 37-year-old Scherzer, who has proved durable throughout his career, has been everything the Mets hoped for so far this season after they signed him to a three-year $130 million contract. The three-time Cy Young winner dealt with hamstring tightness at the end of spring training, but caught it early enough to only miss a few days. That hardly slowed him down and he has posted a 2.54 ERA across eight starts, through Wednesday.
The Mets (25-14) have survived multiple injuries to their rotation so far this season, but can ill afford to add Scherzer to that list. Jacob deGrom didn’t make it out of spring training because of a stress reaction on his right scapula and his standout replacement, Tylor Megill, joined him on the injured list Sunday with right biceps tendinitis.
“If we have to make adjustments, we make them,” manager Buck Showalter said. “Max is a really good pitcher obviously and pitches once every fifth day or sixth day or seventh day for us. We’d like to have him. If we don’t, the season keeps going, right? They don’t wait for us. Ask Jake.”
Chris Bassitt, Carlos Carrasco and Taijuan Walker also enjoyed strong starts to the season, and the Mets entered Monday with a rotation ERA of 3.28 — the sixth-best in the majors. David Peterson is the leading candidate to return from Triple-A Syracuse to take Megill’s spot in the rotation the next time through, but the Mets’ depth would be further tested if Scherzer is sidelined.
Late Wednesday night, Scherzer said it was still too early to know whether he would miss time, leaving it up to the MRI exam.
“He’s a bulldog and I know he loves to compete,” said Pete Alonso, who broke the game open with a three-run homer in the eighth inning. “But at the same time, he’s really smart. If he were to keep pushing and keep going, something a lot worse could have happened, so I’m glad he was smart. … Just want him to recover so we can have him for the most possible time.”
The Mets have also dealt with other injuries recently, including catcher James McCann (broken hamate, surgery) and relievers Trevor May (stress reaction on right humerus) and Sean Reid-Foley (Tommy John surgery).
“We don’t wallow around in self pity,” Showalter said. “Nobody cares about your problems, really. Our fans do, but people compete against us don’t care. We like the people that we’ve surrounded ourselves with. Nobody with the track record of Max, but this is not a ‘sky is falling team.’ ”
The half-inning before Scherzer exited, the Mets put together a four-run rally to take a 6-2 lead. Then, after the Cardinals got within 6-4 in the top of the eighth, the Mets opened the floodgates in the bottom of the inning with a five-run outburst.
“Just a great team win,” Scherzer said.