Check, mate: Miffed Max stares down Girardi, Nats top Phils

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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.

Bryce Harper and Rhys Hoskins hit home runs for Philadelphia, which has lost five of seven.

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.

Hoskins’ one-out homer to left in the eighth off Tanner Rainey brought Philadelphia within a run, but Brad Hand got four outs to record his 16th save.

WHEELS OFF

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-Y WORK

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.

TRAINER’S ROOM

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.

UP NEXT

Washington RHP Erick Fedde (4-4, 3.33) opposes Phillies RHP Vince Velasquez (2-2, 4.44) in the conclusion of the mini two-game series on Wednesday afternoon.

Yankees star Judge hits 61st home run, ties Maris’ AL record

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TORONTO — Aaron Judge tied Roger Maris’ American League record of 61 home runs in a season, hitting a tiebreaking, two-run drive for the New York Yankees in the seventh inning against the Toronto Blue Jays on Wednesday night.

The 30-year-old slugger drove a 94.5 mph belt-high sinker with a full-count from left-hander Tim Mayza over the left-field fence at Rogers Centre. The 117.4 mph drive took just 3.8 seconds to land 394 feet from the plate, and it put the Yankees ahead 5-3.

Judge watched the ball clank off the front of the stands, just below two fans who reached over a railing and tried for a catch. He pumped an arm just before reaching first and exchanged a slap with coach Travis Chapman.

The ball dropped into Toronto’s bullpen and was picked up by Blue Jays bullpen coach Matt Buschmann, who turned it over to the Yankees.

Judge’s mother and Roger Maris Jr. rose and hugged from front-row seats. He appeared to point toward them after rounding second base, then was congratulated by the entire Yankees team, who gave him hugs after he crossed the plate.

Judge moved past the 60 home runs Babe Ruth hit in 1927, which had stood as the major league mark until Maris broke it in 1961. All three stars reached those huge numbers playing for the Yankees.

Barry Bonds holds the big league record of 73 for the San Francisco Giants in 2001.

Judge had gone seven games without a home run – his longest drought this season was nine in mid-August. This was the Yankees’ 155th game of the season, leaving them seven more in the regular season.

The home run came in the fourth plate appearance of the night for Judge, ending a streak of 34 plate appearances without a home run.

Judge is hitting .313 with 130 RBIs, also the top totals in the AL. He has a chance to become the first AL Triple Crown winner since Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera in 2012.

Maris hit No. 61 for the Yankees on Oct. 1, 1961, against Boston Red Sox pitcher Tracy Stallard.

Maris’ mark has been exceeded six times, but all have been tainted by the stench of steroids. Mark McGwire hit 70 home runs for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1998 and 65 the following year, and Bonds topped him. Sammy Sosa had 66, 65 and 63 during a four-season span starting in 1998.

McGwire admitted using banned steroids, while Bonds and Sosa denied knowingly using performing-enhancing drugs. Major League Baseball started testing with penalties for PEDs in 2004, and some fans – perhaps many – until now have considered Maris the holder of the “clean” record.

Among the tallest batters in major league history, the 6-foot-7 Judge burst on the scene on Aug. 13, 2016, homering off the railing above Yankee Stadium’s center-field sports bar and into the netting above Monument Park. He followed Tyler Austin to the plate and they become the first teammates to homer in their first major league at-bats in the same game.

Judge hit 52 homers with 114 RBIs the following year and was a unanimous winner of the AL Rookie of the Year award. Injuries limited him during the following three seasons, and he rebounded to hit 39 homers with 98 RBIs in 2021.

As he approached his last season before free agent eligibility, Judge on opening day turned down the Yankees’ offer of an eight-year contract worth from $230.5 million to $234.5 million. The proposal included an average of $30.5 million annually from 2023-29, with his salary this year to be either the $17 million offered by the team in arbitration or the $21 million requested by the player.

An agreement was reached in June on a $19 million, one-year deal, and Judge heads into this offseason likely to get a contract from the Yankees or another team for $300 million or more, perhaps topping $400 million.

Judge hit six homers in April, 12 in May and 11 in June. He earned his fourth All-Star selection and entered the break with 33 homers. He had 13 homers in July and dropped to nine in August, when injuries left him less protected in the batting order and pitchers walked him 25 times.

He became just the fifth player to hold a share of the AL season record. Nap Lajoie hit 14 in the AL’s first season as a major league in 1901, and Philadelphia Athletics teammate Socks Seabold had 16 the next year, a mark that stood until Babe Ruth hit 29 in 1919. Ruth set the record four times in all, with 54 in 1920, 59 in 1921 and 60 in 1927, a mark that stood until Maris’ 61 in 1961.

Maris was at 35 in July 1961 during the first season each team’s schedule increased from 154 games to 162, and baseball Commissioner Ford Frick ruled if anyone topped Ruth in more than 154 games “there would have to be some distinctive mark in the record books to show that Babe Ruth’s record was set under a 154-game schedule.”

That “distinctive mark” became known as an “asterisk” and it remained until Sept. 4, 1991, when a committee on statistical accuracy chaired by Commissioner Fay Vincent voted unanimously to recognize Maris as the record holder.