MILWAUKEE — About two hours after being named Mets general manager last November, Billy Eppler placed a call to Scott Boras. Unwilling to waste any time as he looked to fortify the Mets under owner Steve Cohen’s watch, Eppler ticked through a number of different players in that initial conversation with one of baseball’s most powerful agents.
“But he knew who I was calling about,” Eppler said.
It was not long before Eppler and Cohen were on a Zoom call with Max Scherzer and his wife, laying out their vision for the Mets. What they described looked a bit like what unfolded Monday at American Family Field: Scherzer on the mound, delivering six perfect innings as the Mets clinched a playoff berth with a 7-2 win over the Brewers.
“This is what you play the game for,” said Scherzer, who picked up his 200th career win and lowered his ERA to 2.15. “You play the game to get in the postseason. The fact that we got here, there’s a lot of ways for it not to work out. For us to be able to find our way into the postseason, it’s awesome. That’s what we celebrate.”
Making his first start since a 15-day stint on the injured list, Scherzer appeared something less than perfect early, allowing a series of hard-hit balls to the outfield. But each of those found gloves, and by the middle innings, Scherzer had found his groove. He struck out two in the fourth inning and two more in the fifth, proving so efficient with his pitches that manager Buck Showalter found it impossible to remove him from the game at that point. Scherzer convinced Showalter to give him one more inning, which he punctuated with his ninth strikeout of the night.
At that point, in an acknowledgment of the greater goals ahead, Showalter brought in reliever Tylor Megill, who allowed a double to the first batter he faced.
“It wasn’t [difficult],” Scherzer said of leaving a perfect game in progress. “I know where I’m at in this rehab process of getting back up there. I wasn’t going to have a chance to complete it. You’ve just got to take your victories when you can get them.”
Earlier this season, Scherzer missed nearly seven weeks due to a strained left oblique muscle, which began aggravating him again in early September. Rather than risk the health of one of their two most important starters, the Mets shut Scherzer down for a few days, sent him on a rehab assignment, then brought him back Monday under a strict pitch count of about 75. Scherzer wound up needing only 68 to complete his six innings, becoming the 120th pitcher and third active player to win 200 games.
“You couldn’t draw it up any better than that,” Showalter said.
Following the game, Scherzer’s teammates presented him with a bottle of Armand De Brignac Ace of Spades champagne, which he shared with anyone who happened to walk in his direction. It was Scherzer who was among the most vocal proponents of the Mets celebrating their playoff berth, given his understanding of how difficult that can be.
Within the walls of the clubhouse, there is perhaps no more respected Met than Scherzer, a three-time Cy Young Award winner and World Series champion whom Eppler and others saw as the catalyst for a winning culture. When issues arise, Scherzer is typically the player whose opinions carry the most weight. When the Mets signed him to a three-year, $130 million contract, they did so under expectations that he could not only improve their rotation, but also change their culture.
Monday, he continued the process of accomplishing both goals.
“He’s won a World Series,” said teammate Brandon Nimmo. “He’s been there, done that, and he still pitches and plays with such a passion. … For guys who haven’t done it before, it’s important to learn from someone who has.”