WASHINGTON — Max Scherzer knew from the time he woke up on Sunday that he wouldn’t be able to pitch for the Nationals in pivotal Game 5 of the World Series.
The pain on his upper right side from neck spasms and a “jammed up” nerve was so great the right-hander had to use his left arm to pick himself up.
“I couldn’t do anything,” he said. “I couldn’t even dress myself. I had to have my wife help me.”
After Washington’s disheartening loss in Game 4 on Saturday that got Houston even in the series at two games apiece, that was the sobering double whammy on Sunday. Scherzer, Washington’s hope to match Houston ace Gerrit Cole in a rematch, had to be scratched from the titanic pairing.
Instead of Scherzer, a three-time Cy Young Award winner, that left Game 5 to Joe Ross, who was added to the Nats’ playoff roster for the World Series and had pitched two scoreless innings. In nine starts and 27 appearances during the regular season, Ross was 4-4 with a 5.48 ERA.
Scherzer said he’s had neck spasms before, but this was “the most severe one of all time.” The pain emanates from the spasms, a nerve and the upper right trapezius muscle, one of the major muscles of the back that helps the head and neck tilt and turn, steadies the shoulders and twists the arms.
This issue started a few days ago. He was able to play catch on Saturday, do treatment and hope for improvement.
It didn’t come Sunday.
“I’m as disappointed as I can possibly be to not be able to pitch tonight,” said Scherzer, who was the winner in a 5-4 victory in a matchup with Cole in Game 1. “It’s Game 5 of the World Series. I’ve pitched through so much crap in my career that [those things] would be easy to pitch through. This is literally impossible to do anything with.”
The question now is whether Scherzer will be available for any of the games remaining in the best-of-seven series. He received a cortisone shot on Sunday and said doctors told him it could be 48 hours before he knows its affects.
The teams travel to Houston on Monday and play Game 6 on Tuesday. Nats manager Dave Martinez said Stephen Strasburg will start Game 6 against Justin Verlander. Game 7 is an “if necessary” game.
“I’m just hoping the doctors are right and that’s something that could be possible for Game 7,” Scherzer said.
Scherzer said the spasms were not related to a lower back injury that put him on the injured list this season.
“If you all know Max, obviously he pitched with a broken nose, he’s been hurt before, he’s gotten through things,” Martinez said. “When he comes in and says he’s hurt this bad, he’s hurt.”
The twist came after Washington, trying to increase its series lead to 3-1 in a favorable pitching matchup in Game 4 on Sunday, instead fell flat in an 8-1 loss.
Nats starter Patrick Corbin was outpitched by a rookie who began the season in Double-A. The Astros got a two-run homer from catcher Robinson Chirinos and a grand slam from Alex Bregman while making this the fifth World Series that a road team has won the first four games.
In perhaps the Astros’ most important game, the moment certainly wasn’t too big for Jose Urquidy (pronounced Urr-kee-dee), a bearded 24-year-old right-hander who had thrown just 4ß innings in relief in the postseason,
With his mother, Alma, in attendance, he allowed just two hits in five innings. He struck out four.
“A couple of moments I was thinking about, ‘Oh my God. I’m [in the] World Series pitching,’” he said. “It’s awesome.”
Urquidy, the third Mexican-born pitcher (Fernando Valenzuela, Jaime Garcia) to start a World Series game, missed the 2017 season after undergoing Tommy John elbow surgery and threw just 57ß innings last year. He was 7-5 with a 4.46 ERA in Double-A and Triple-A this year while making three trips to Houston.
“There was a lot of noise around losing the first two games, and rightfully so because the Nats had outplayed us,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. “And I think we turned it around and now we’ve outplayed them for a couple of games, and now we have a three-game series. The winner of two of three wins the World Series.”