PHILADELPHIA — A hairy situation clearly miffed Max.
Max Scherzer threw his glove and hat to the grass, then stared down Phillies manager Joe Girardi after getting checked for a third time by umpires for sticky stuff as the Washington Nationals beat Philadelphia 3-2 Tuesday night.
“These are Manfred rules,” Scherzer said, referring to the crackdown by baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred. “Go ask him what he wants to do with this.”
Scherzer (6-4) looked sharp in his return to the rotation after missing a start due to a groin injury, striking out eight in five innings. Girardi apparently didn’t like what he saw.
In the fourth, Scherzer whizzed a fastball high and inside to Alec Bohm, sending him sprawling to the ground before striking him out. Prior to the next batter, Girardi asked the umpires to check Scherzer after he noticed the Nationals ace touching his hair.
“It was suspicious for me,” Girardi said.
Major league umpires began a crackdown on Monday by regularly examining pitchers for tacky substances that can give them a better grip on the baseball. Managers also can request a check, although umps can deny it if they believe it’s not in good faith.
The fiery Scherzer already had been checked by second-base umpire Alfonso Marquez after the first and third inning, with the crew chief doing an inspection of the right-hander’s glove, hat and belt.
So when Marquez approached Scherzer for a third time, this time at Girardi’s request, the three-time Cy Young Award winner tossed his glove and hat to the ground, unbuckled his belt and appeared ready to take his pants off in what became a bizarre scene.
“I would have to be an absolute fool to actually use something tonight when everybody’s antenna is so far high they’d look for anything,” Scherzer said. “I have absolutely zero on me. I have nothing on me. Check whatever you want. I’ll take off all my clothes if you want to see me.”
Scherzer explained that he was having trouble gripping the baseball and the pitch to Bohm was a byproduct.
“I almost put a 95 mile an hour fastball in his head because the ball slipped out of my hand,” he said. “The whole night I was sick of kind of licking my fingers and tasting rosin the whole night.”
Trying to find a way to get a grasp on the baseball, Scherzer reached for his sweaty hair, saying that’s the only place he could find enough moisture without constantly licking his hands after applying rosin — something he said tasted “gross.”
Girardi said prior to the contest that he would not ask a pitcher to be checked merely for gamesmanship; rather, he would do it only if he legitimately believed there was cause.
“I got nothing,” Scherzer appeared to repeat to the umpires, before glaring at Philadelphia’s dugout, brushing his hair with his hands and yelling, “Just wet!”
“Nothing but sweat,” Marquez said afterward.
Scherzer sent the Phillies down in order in the fifth and stared hard toward Girardi while walking back to the Nationals dugout. Girardi then became unglued, hopping onto the field, motioning with his hands and screaming toward the Nationals dugout.
Plate umpire Tim Timmons intercepted Girardi and ejected him.
“I’m not playing games, I’m trying to win games here,” Girardi said. “I have respect for what Max has done in his career, but I have to do what’s right for our team.”
Scherzer mocked Girardi from Washington’s dugout, holding up his hat and glove as if to ask the Phillies skipper if he wanted to check one more time.
“Hopefully the players across the league understand that what were doing right now, this is not the answer,” Scherzer said. “There is a problem with Spider Tack in the game and we’ve got to get rid of that, but I also think there’s a way to handle this in a better way.”
“We’re going to continue to have more events like this happen,” Scherzer added. “As pitchers evolve to this, pitchers aren’t going to be too happy doing this because we’re tying to play by the rules.”
Yan Gomes had a pair of RBI singles for the Nationals, who have won three straight and eight of nine. Scherzer allowed two hits and one run.
Washington scored a pair of runs in the first on RBIs by Josh Bell and Gomes.
Harper led off the second with a drive to the second deck in right. The Nationals got that run back in the third on Gomes’ second RBI single of the contest.
Phillies starter Zack Wheeler (5-4) lasted just three innings in his worst start of the season. The right-hander allowed three runs on six hits with four strikeouts and a walk.
As with all pitchers under MLB’s new policy, Wheeler was checked for grip enhancers.
“I could really care less,” Wheeler shrugged. “I’m not using anything.”
Hand had to wriggle out of trouble in the ninth after surrendering a leadoff double to Bohm, hitting Ronald Torreyes and giving up an infield single to pinch-hitter Matt Vierling to load the bases with one out. But the lefty got Odubel Herrera to hit a shallow fly and retired Hoskins on a grounder on a full-count pitch.
Nationals: RHP Kyle Finnegan was placed on the 10-day IL with a left hamstring strain.
Phillies: SS Didi Gregorious, out since May 13 with a right elbow injury, could begin a rehab assignment later this week, general manager Dave Dombrowski said on the club’s pregame radio show.