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Scherzer on facing Kershaw in Game 1: 'This is what you play the game for'

Scherzer on facing Kershaw in Game 1: 'This is what you play the game for'

For as dominant as Max Scherzer and Clayton Kershaw have been in their respective careers, baseball fans have yet to be treated to a high-stakes duel between the two at the height of their abilities.

In fact, the only time these hurlers started against each other was back in September of 2008 as rookies. In other words, before the Cy Young Awards, All-Star Game appearances, strikeout titles and, in Kershaw’s case, a National League MVP.

That all changes in Game 1 of the NL Division Series. Scherzer and Kershaw, picked five selections apart in the first round of the 2006 First-Year Player Draft, will finally square off again, this time as two unquestioned aces pitching during the time of the year it matters most.  

“It's what you play this game for,” Scherzer said. “You don't measure yourself against the worst; you measure yourself against the best. And I think this is best opponent I could possibly face with the Dodgers and Kershaw throwing.”

“I don't expect for it to be a blowout tomorrow by any means,” Kershaw added.

Look around the playoff field, and it would be tough to find a more compelling pitching matchup than this one. So on the eve of their biggest [duel] to date, both Game 1 starters took turns singing each other’s praises.

“Just a great competitor,” Kershaw said of his Nationals counterpart. “He had an amazing year this year. You know, if not the frontrunner to win the Cy Young, definitely in the top two or three. We know we've got our hands full.”

Indeed, Scherzer is coming off another Cy Young-caliber campaign, going 20-7 with a 2.96 ERA and an MLB-best 284 strikeouts. In his second season with the Nats, the 32-year-old right hander has proven to be the top-line starter the club needed when he signed a seven-year, $210 million contract before the 2015 season.

“It's what I envisioned when I drafted him way back in the day,” Nats’ GM Mike Rizzo said. “He attacks. He's in attack mode. He's an aggressive pitcher. He's the guy that you want to give the ball to in the most crucial situations.”

Kershaw, meanwhile, was off to another historically great start before missing a large chunk of the year with a back injury. The 28-year-old lefty returned in September in time to make five starts, regaining his strength and finishing the regular season 12-4 with a 1.69 ERA and an impressive 172-11 strikeout-to-walk ratio.  

“You have go to up there and be ready to hit because you know he's not going to walk you,” first baseman Clint Robinson said. “You have to go up there and don't let him get away with mistakes. If he makes a mistake pitch, you have to be ready to get all over him and do damage. Because if not, the man has proven over the years to that if he's on, you're not going to hit him.”

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts put it in more simple terms. 

“I'd rather have nobody on the mound tomorrow than Clayton Kershaw,” he said.

Of course, the unpredictability of the postseason is always in play, so there’s a chance the low-scoring affair many expect may not come to fruition. Regardless, pitching matchups rarely get more hyped than this, and the Nats believe they have their man that can lead them deep into October against the opposition’s best.  

“This is something you always remember,” Scherzer said. “You want to be in these situations, because this is too much fun, to be able to go up and face a team and pitcher of this caliber.”

[MORE: NATIONALS ANNOUNCE PLAYOFF ROSTER FOR NLDS VS. DODGERS]

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Max Scherzer's bid for third no-hitter ends in heartbreak

Max Scherzer's bid for third no-hitter ends in heartbreak

Max Scherzer's bid for the third no-hitter of his big league career ended with one out in the eighth inning, and he then gave up two unearned runs as the Miami Marlins rallied to beat the Washington Nationals 2-1 Wednesday.

After backup catcher A.J. Ellis reached on an infield single for Miami's first hit, an error by first baseman Adam Lind and a hit batter loaded the bases with two outs. Scherzer threw a wild pitch that scored the tying run, and Giancarlo Stanton lined an RBI single -- the Marlins' only other hit -- to put them ahead.

Scherzer (8-5) threw no-hitters against the Pirates and Mets in 2015, and he seemed on his way to another when he began the eighth inning with a 1-0 lead.

He retired 18 in a row before Ellis hit a chopper that bounced in front of the plate and glanced off the tip of Scherzer's glove as he reached overhead for it. The ball rolled to shortstop Trea Turner, who failed in his attempt to make a barehanded pickup and rush a throw.

MORE NATS: 12-3 win over Marlins Tuesday

Official scorer Ron Jernick immediately ruled the play a hit, and Scherzer knew it. He picked up the ball and angrily flung it to the dugout -- not as a souvenir.

Washington totaled five hits against Dan Straily and three relievers. Kyle Barraclough (3-1) pitched the eighth, and A.J. Ramos worked around a two-out single in the ninth for his 10th save.

Scherzer threw a season-high 121 pitches and had 11 strikeouts, reaching double figures for the sixth game in a row, the team's longest such streak such the franchise moved to Washington for the 2005 season.

He lowered his ERA to 2.08, best in the NL. He also leads the league with 145 strikeouts.

The other no-hitter in the majors this year was achieved on the same mound by Miami's Edinson Volquez against Arizona on June 3.

RELATED: 2017 MLB Power Rankings

The crowd of 22,659 for the 12:10 p.m. start included thousands of youngsters on camp day, and they gave the game a scream-filled soundtrack.

The score was 0-0 until Washington's Ryan Raburn hit his first homer of the year in the fifth. Raburn was a late replacement for outfielder Michael A. Taylor, who was scratched because he wasn't feeling well.

That was the only run allowed by Straily, who went six innings.

Scherzer walked Christian Yelich with two out in the first and hit Derek Dietrich with a pitch with one out in the second. That was Miami's last baserunner until the eighth.

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The Nats got hot Tuesday in Miami with 12-3 win over Marlins

The Nats got hot Tuesday in Miami with 12-3 win over Marlins

Gio Gonzalez had some worrisome moments on the mound Tuesday night, including when a friend sitting in the first row behind the Washington Nationals' dugout was hit in the head by a flying bat.

"Next time in the front row everyone will be wearing a helmet," Gonzalez said.

The friend later said he was fine, and Gonzalez felt good too after pitching seven innings to beat the Miami Marlins 12-3.

Gonzalez (7-1) allowed three runs, including two on Marcell Ozuna's 19th homer , but struck out eight and won his fourth consecutive decision.

"Exactly what we needed," manager Dusty Baker said. "Gio's throwing the ball great."

He had plenty of support even before a five-run ninth. Bryce Harper started the scoring with a two-run single that extended his hitting streak to 13 games, and Daniel Murphy had two RBIs and hit his 12th homer . Stephen Drew had three hits and three RBIs, while Ryan Zimmerman drove in three runs with a double and a single.

Gonzalez, who grew up in nearby Hialeah, improved to 7-3 in 13 starts against his hometown team with an ERA of 2.19. He had a cluster of friends and relatives in attendance, and that's where Justin Bour's bat went when it slipped from his hands on a swing in the fifth inning.

"It's good to have friends here, but put them somewhere safe," Gonzalez said.

He said his pal who was hit received a souvenir later as compensation for being clubbed.

"Bour gave him a bat, which is pretty cool on his part, because we want the fans to come back," Gonzalez said.

The left-hander said it was too early to talk about the possibility of pitching in the All-Star game, which will be played in his hometown next month. His teammates are rooting for it.

"Gio has been great," Harper said. "I'm hoping he pitches like this the rest of the first half and gets the start here. It would be incredible to see."

The NL East leaders went 7 for 14 with runners in scoring position, but it was still 0-0 when Edinson Volquez (3-8) walked Michael A. Taylor and Trea Turner in the third inning, and they advanced on a double steal.

With two outs, Harper tried to bunt on the first pitch -- a curious move by the slugger -- and pushed it foul. He golfed the next pitch into center for the Nationals' first hit to put them up 2-0.

"I don't hit Volquez very well," Harper said. "If I can lay a bunt down with a guy at third and get a knock and score a run ... but it worked out."

Pitching to Harper backfired for Miami, so the next time he came to bat, when the Nationals again had a runner in scoring position, Marlins manager Don Mattingly opted for an intentional walk. Zimmerman foiled the strategy with a two-run double.

"They've got a good lineup," Mattingly said. "They put you in a box in a number of ways."

Volquez allowed a season-high six runs in 4 2/3 innings.

MORE NATS: NATS STOCK UP ON PITCHERS DURING DRAFT