After Warriors shooting guard Klay Thompson went off for 41 points - including a playoff record 11 threes - at the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 6 of the 2016 Western Conference Finals, Max Scherzer - a Warriors fan - took to his Twitter account to shout his elation in capital letters, noting how Thompson rose to the occasion in one of the most important games of his career:
"Klay Thompson just showed the world how BIG TIME PLAYERS play in BIG TIME GAMES!"
The message spoke to his admiration not only for Thompson's abilities, but for the opportunity he seized as a professional athlete. Scherzer himself will admit that some of his own games mean more than others, depending on the time of season, opponent or circumstances in the standings.
The stakes of a Major League Baseball game on June 29th do not quite compare to those of a do-or-die NBA playoff tilt, but on Wednesday night Scherzer once again stepped up against the rival New York Mets, the reigning champions in the NL East. The Nats ace went 7 1/3 shutout innings with just two hits allowed and 10 strikeouts in Washington's 4-2, sweep-securing win.
Scherzer now has a 1.66 ERA in six starts against the Mets since he signed with the Nationals before the 2015 season. In his last three matchups with them, he's allowed just two earned runs across 22 1/3 innings.
Scherzer wasn't the only big time player to show up in a big time game on Wednesday. Add Daniel Murphy to the category, as the Nats second baseman clubbed two homers, his 13th and 14th of the season. Since joining the Nats, he is 15-for-35 (.429) with four homers and 11 RBI against his former team.
Manager Dusty Baker is pleased to see two of his most important players raise their games against the Mets.
"It’s everything. You want them to step up against everybody, but especially against your rivals, guys you’re chasing or guys that are chasing you," Baker explained.
"This was big… Every game’s a two-game game when you’re playing a team that’s chasing you or you’re chasing them."
Getting Murphy to publicly admit pleasure in hammering his former team has so far proven to be an impossible task. He doesn't like talking about himself and he definitely does not like talking about his former team.
Scherzer, though, will speak on his behalf.
"It's just obvious that he wants to beat 'em up. It's obvious," Scherzer said. "Everybody wants to. When you face you're former team, you obviously wanna get the best of them. For him to come out here and really slug against them, it puts a smile on all of our faces because we know what he's going through."
Murphy will not put extra weight on games against the Mets, but will detail the importance of sweeping an NL East foe.
"You like playing well against division opponents. Those games, they just count extra. You've got one team, when they win they move in one direction, the other teams moves in the other one," Murphy said.
A lot can change from the end of June until the end of the regular season and the Nationals know that well. In 2015, they were 6-3 through their first nine games against the Mets, just as they are this season. They lost their next six matchups and the division along the way.
There will be many more opportunities this season for players on either side to step up and make a dramatic difference in the season series. So far in 2016, however, it's been Scherzer and Murphy who have stood out among all.